Montgomery, AL – The bingo issue drew supporters and opponents from across Alabama as they convened on the State House Tuesday afternoon to voice their views and opinions on gambling in the state.
Governor Bob Riley addressed hundreds of gambling opponents at the State House earlier today, but most of his statements were drowned out by electronic bingo supporters chanting, “Let us vote.”
Riley answered their pleas with, “Not here … not in Alabama,” and said that the people had already voted on this issue.
“Electronic bingo machines are slot machines that are illegal,” stated Riley.
Hundreds of ex-employees from Country Crossing, an entertainment complex near Dothan, and Victoryland, a greyhound park and bingo casino in Macon County, showed up to fight for their jobs, holding placards that read “impeach riley” and “let the people vote.”
On the other side of the issue, hundreds of proponents showed up to demonstrate their support for Riley’s bingo stance, some wearing stickers with the saying “casinos corrupt.” Many cited biblical or moral issues as reasons for opposing gambling.
Many of the demonstrators felt that it was their constitutional right to vote whether or not gambling should be allowed in the state. Gaming legislation expected to be voted on in the Senate today was postponed.
The Reverend Herman Henderson of Birmingham, shares Riley’s side in the emotional debate.
“I’m here to stand with the governor,” said Henderson. “All of us here may be on different sides, but I firmly believe that in the end they’ll have to obey the law and the law says it’s illegal.”
“But, if the legislators vote and say we’re going to allow gambling in Alabama, then that should be the law of the land and I believe in the law of the land,” Henderson continued.
Dothan resident Henry Johnson, however, is adamantly opposed to every kind of gambling, although is sympathetic to those who were ousted from their jobs when both Victoryland and Country Crossing closed.
“It is sad that they have lost their jobs, but it’s also sad that they chose to work in a place that’s illegal,” Johnson began. “Now, maybe most of them didn’t know that when they started work there and my heart goes out to them. The economy is bad right now, but casinos are not a way to improve it.”
Montgomery community activist Mary Anne Martin handed out literature and information about compulsive gamblers.
“Last year there were over 4,000 calls from problem gamblers in Alabama to the Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling Hotline, asking them to help because there is no one in Alabama to help them,” said Martin. “I want people to know that if they have a problem they can call the National Council on Problem Gambling Hotline and they have counselors there that will help them.”
Country music artist John Anderson came to the rally to represent Ronnie Gilley (Country Crossing developer) and to show his support for all of the people who were working at the entertainment complex just a few miles outside of Dothan.
Anderson owns a restaurant there and is just one of the performers involved in the complex; others include George Jones, Lorrie Morgan, Darryl Worley, and Tracy Lawrence.
“Everything at Country Crossing is closed down and I think we have between 1,500 and 2,000 people out of work,” Anderson said, speaking to Our Prattville just moments before he was to take the podium. “That’s a big part of why we’re here … to see if we can’t do something to get it open again.”
Worley spoke at the podium for about ten minutes, reflecting passionately about his Christian faith and how important it was for people to exercise their God-given constitutional right to vote.
John Thomas, who is personally against gambling, is one of those who found himself unemployed when the facility closed its doors on January 29 to prevent a raid by the governor’s gambling task force, and has yet to find another job.
“Before I got my job at Country Crossing, I was out of work since March of 2009,” he said. “But, I came to work there on December 8 and I’ve been there ever since until Bob Riley shut us down. I’m against gambling myself, but I need a job and that is the only reason I’m here.”
Another unemployed Country Crossing worker, Ann Ockmand, echoed Thomas’ sentiments about the reason for the rally today.
“We are here to support jobs … and God knows, we need jobs in Alabama,” said Ockmand. “I think people at least ought to be able to work while they solve this issue … and surely we can resolve this peacefully.”
Victoryland Gaming Director, Stan Hubbard, said that the closing there affected about 2,000 people and admitted that he was unsure why Riley would close down these facilities so late in his administration.
“There are tons of support here today for bingo … I think it has something to do with being without work and having kids to feed,” he said. “I know Riley got the campaign contributions back in 2002 (that has been documented),” Hubbard alleged.
“I still don’t know why he would flip to this craziness this late in the term.”
Victoryland faces other problems as the casino also features greyhound races as well as electronic bingo. When it closed, both dogs and trainers were left in the lurch with no possibility of making money at the track.
Jim Garland, Director of Racing at Victoryland, brought a greyhound with him to the gambling assembly, and stated that some trainers are leaving the state with their dogs.
“With the track closed, kennel operators are not making any money now. The dogs are just sitting around, not getting any exercise … and they love to race, but they can’t do that right now,” said Garland. “I’m out of a job as well as about 1,800 others, and all we want is for the people to have a chance to vote.”
“At Victoryland we don’t drag people off of the street and make them gamble. They choose to come in … that’s the peoples’ choice as is the right to vote,” he said.
Article by Melissa Parker
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