lot machines with the same names can be found in Biloxi or Las Vegas. Of course, the Poarch Creeks don’t call their devices "slot machines." Neither do the dog tracks in Macon and Greene counties, nor the new bingo halls in places like Walker County. They’re "electronic bingo" games that happen to look just like slot machines.
Collectively, these gambling enterprises are a monument to the persistence of gambling interests - and the state of Alabama’s feeble response. They vindicate those critics who warned the state from the beginning not to breach the dam holding back gambling - and serve as a warning to those who even now want to lower the levees a little more.
There really is a slippery slope, and Alabama has been skidding sideways down it for years. The new Wind Creek casino is but the latest example. It is, though, a particularly vexing example. Indian gambling is governed by an odd mixture of federal rules and court cases, but the states in which tribes are located do play a role.
Generally speaking, Indian tribes get to offer whatever types of gambling the state allows elsewhere. In leaving doors ajar for non-Indian gambling, the state of Alabama left them ajar for the Poarch Creeks, too. And if it’s difficult for the state to take on non-Indian gambling enterprises, it’s many times more complicated in the case of Indian gambling.
The issue has constituted a legal snarl for years, and it remains so today. Late last year, federal courts dismissed Attorney General Troy King’s lawsuit seeking to block the Poarch Creeks’ attempt to work out an accord with the federal government for the tribe’s gambling business here. The process continues in the Department of the Interior, and if anything, suspicions are that the tribe’s prospects will improve with Barack Obama in the White House.
In the meantime, the Wind Creek Casino will be running around the clock, seven days a week, in Alabama, a state whose constitution still forbids gambling. It’s a reminder to lawmakers who this year are expected to be asked to give more ground to the state’s other gambling purveyors - namely, dog tracks and charity bingo operations - in exchange for tax dollars to ease the state’s budget crunch.
While it is absolutely crazy the state collects no tax from the thousands of electronic machines in dog tracks and bingo halls, the political reality is that gambling interests won’t just throw free money the state’s way. They’ll want concessions that will leave them more firmly entrenched in this state. The Legislature’s track record suggests it won’t happen any other way.
Lawmakers will say Alabamians might as well spin the "Wheel of Fortune" here rather than take their money to Biloxi or Las Vegas. But there is a difference. Mississippi and Nevada have legalized casinos. Alabama has not. If the state is going to have that kind of gambling here, the people of Alabama should at least change the state’s constitution.