Bingo bill to be heard by Alabama Senate Tuesday

By Jonathan Hardison

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - We're less than 12 hours away from the start of a showdown in Montgomery over the future of electronic bingo in Alabama.

Supporters and opponents of a plan that gives explicit permission for 10 casinos are planning big rallies at the Statehouse Tuesday.

The bingo bill that will be heard in senate makes for some strange alliances.

In a sign of just how significant bingo supporters and opponents think this week's senate debate could be, both send busloads of protesters for rallies scheduled at the same spot just 2 1/2 hours apart.

Employees from Milton McGregor's Victoryland and other supporters of the "Sweet Home Alabama" bill argue that the legislature needs to pass their plan, which puts thousands of people back to work following raids.

Bingo opponents, including Governor Riley, will rally shortly after 12pm to try and sway what both sides believe will be a close vote.

"It's close," said bingo opponent and ALCAP Executive Director Dr. Joe Godfrey. "One or 2 senators changing their minds either way could be good for us or bad for us."

Some churches in Birmingham are planning to bus protesters to Tuesday's rally.

Opponents will argue bingo is not only wrong, but it actually hurts the state's economy.
"In other parts of the country when casinos come to town, for every job that's created, 1 and 1/2 jobs are lost and you don't know that till it's all over," Dr. Godfrey said.
     
Though they may not share the same moral viewpoint, bingo operators, like those behind BAMACO in Fairfield, will support church leaders' efforts to kill the bill.

Fairfield officials say the "Sweet Home Alabama" plan to name 10 predetermined sites for bingo would eliminate BAMACO, and the jobs that go with them.

"We fear Milton McGregor more than we fear Bob Riley," said BAMACO bingo operator W.A. Casey. "He's going to run a monopoly and this in Fairfield, the bingo halls alone, employ almost 3,000 people and give tax dollars to the city. If McGregor has his way with the monopoly, it will exclude not only us, but the Catholic church and other people who are doing charity."

Fairfield's police chief says the issue of bingo should be put to a statewide referendum because he thinks state resources are being misused now.

"You've got the governor bringing out 200 troopers to serve misdemeanor warrants on bingo halls," Chief Pat Mardis said Monday. "We've got people being killed on the interstates, and we can't even get the troopers to work the wrecks. It's not their fault. But Governor, we need to take a look at the priorities. If you wanna come raid something, I've got 3 crack houses behind this building and I'd welcome any help I can get."

Bingo supporters and opponents are each expecting hundreds of people at their rallies and FOX6 News will be there to bring you all of the developments Tuesday.

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