Alabama Tribe’s Pitch for Exclusive Gaming Rights Gains Key Support in State Capital

Posted on: December 6, 2019, 10:11h. 

Last updated on: December 6, 2019, 11:52h.

The Poarch Band of Creek Indians in Alabama has presented the state with a grand bargain that would afford the tribe exclusive rights on casino gambling in exchange for $1 billion. One powerful lawmaker in the Montgomery capital says it’s a deal the state should strongly consider.

Alabama casino tribe politics
Alabama lawmaker Mac McCutcheon supports a more serious consideration of the gaming expansion package submitted by the state’s only federally recognized tribe. (Image: Brynn Anderson/AP)

House Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) addressed the issue in Auburn this week at the Association of County Commissions of Alabama’s 2019 Legislative Conference. The former police officer said the Native American’s offer would provide an influx of new revenues for the state, and end critical gaming and lottery dollars from flowing to nearby states.

I am not a big gambling guy, but if you are going to vote for a lottery, that’s gambling,” McCutcheon stated. “Don’t be a hypocrite and let’s get the biggest bang for the buck.”

“Let’s address a lottery, the Poarch Creek Indians, and these counties that want a one-armed gambling. Put them all in a room and hammer out a deal,” the speaker declared.

Tribal Pitch

The Poarch Band of Creek Indians have come under fire recently by a largely anonymous group contending the tribe is taking advantage of Alabama. The Poarch Creek Accountability Now (PCAN) nonprofit says the Native Americans aren’t paying taxes on their gaming revenues, and instead taking their winnings to invest in casino projects in other states and jurisdictions.

The Alabama tribe acquired Sands Bethlehem in Pennsylvania earlier this year for $1.3 billion. It additionally own properties in Nevada, Florida, Aruba, and Curacao.

In Alabama, the Poarch Indians operate three resorts under its Wind Creek Hospitality arm. The three venues, however, only offer Class I and II gaming (ex: bingo and non-banked card games) under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). The tribe’s winnings are free of state taxes.

IGRA doesn’t allow tribal casinos on sovereign land to operate slot machines and table games such as blackjack and roulette unless the tribe enters into a compact with its host state. Alabama and the tribe has yet to do so.

But now, the tribe is willing to negotiate. Last month, the Poarch Indians unveiled a $1 billion plan.

The proposal includes:

$725 million in licensing and compact fees to incorporate slots and table games at its three existing venues, plus two new casino resorts

$350 million in projected tax revenue sharing

6,500 new jobs

Allow the state to conduct a traditional lottery, but ban video lottery terminals at racetracks

For the tribe to sign its proposal, the state would need to hand over the gaming rights to everything other than the lottery to the Native American group.

Opposition Strong

Alabama has long opposed most forms of gambling. It’s one of only five non-lottery states remaining in the US.

Centered in the Bible Belt, Alabama hasn’t been as ready to ease its steadfast hostility to gambling as its neighbors. Mississippi debuted its lottery last week, Arkansas has legalized commercial casinos, Tennessee has signed-off on sports betting regulations, Georgia lawmakers are discussing expanded gambling, and Kentucky just elected a governor who ran on ending casino prohibition.

But in the Cotton State, McCutcheon says too many of his constituents won’t budge.

“Here is the bottom line in the Republican caucus. Out of the 77 members, 18 are not for any gambling at all. It takes 63 votes to pass a constitutional amendment,” the speaker explained.