Will Riley win battle against gambling?

Published 5:53 pm Friday, January 2, 2009

Gov. Bob Riley announced on Monday that the state is preparing to take the gambling issue head on.

“Enough is enough,” Gov. Riley said. “Alabamians should never be forced to stand by and watch rogue gambling interests come in and take our state for all it’s worth. By executive order, I have established the Governor’s Task Force on Illegal Gambling, which will bring the state’s resources to bear in ending once and for all what has become a growing epidemic in Alabama.”

Gov. Riley’s announcement brings him in direct opposition to the Alabama Education Association and Director Dr. Paul Hubbert, who in December asked the governor’s office to investigate gambling as a possible source of additional tax revenue.

“I can understand the moral opposition to gambling, I feel it too, but we have not been successful at stopping it from coming into our state, and we won’t be able to stop gaming from operating here,” said Hubbert at the time.

Riley said gambling is illegal in Alabama and there is no compromise on the issue.

“The law is very clear,” Gov. Riley said. “But the law doesn’t matter to the gambling interests and their allies. They use the excuse, ‘gambling is already here, so we might as well tax it.’ I say it shouldn’t be here at all. It’s illegal. We shouldn’t legalize it. We should get rid of illegal gambling for good wherever it exists in Alabama.”

Tim James, Greenville native and Republican candidate for Governor, applauded Gov. Riley.

“Pro-gambling forces are now lining up support in the Alabama Legislature to legalize casinos with the fool’s argument that the State of Alabama is desperate for new revenue sources,” said James. “They don’t tell the people about the social costs of expanded gambling, such as higher rates of crime, divorce, personal bankruptcy, and business failure.”

However, with Dr. Hubbert and the AEA encouraging the legislators to find a way to tax gambling in the state, this issue is not a dead one.

AEA’s influence extends far beyond the boundaries of Gov. Riley’s corridors of power.

For Gov. Riley, who leaves office in 2010, this issue may go down as his Waterloo.

With Alabama tax dollars filling the state coffers because of lotteries in Tennessee, Georgia and Florida and casinos in Mississippi, it may be only a matter of time before the Heart of Dixie joins them.