We have a gambling problem in Alabama. The state's governor, Republican Bob Riley, began a crackdown on illegal gambling 23 months ago. He declared, with the backing of the state's Supreme Court, that thousands of electronic bingo machines located in 16 of the state's 67 counties are, in fact, slot machines. Slot machines are illegal in Alabama. Nevertheless, thousands of them crept into our state under the phony label of “charity bingo.” Since charity bingo is allowed for things such as church fund-raisers, the gambling industry thought they could put the word "bingo" on a slot machine and get away with it.
Over the years people have played these phony bingo machines as state officials looked the other way. Governor Riley, nearing the end of his second term as governor, has chosen, at last, to address the issue. The state defines a slot machine as a gambling device that, as a result of the insertion of a coin or other object, operates, either completely automatically or with the aid of some physical act by the player, in such a manner that, depending upon elements of chance, it may eject something of value. Any fool can see that "bingo" machines are in fact slot machines.
The governor's critics point out that his claims that the machines are morally and legally unacceptable would have had more credibility had he pursued the issue during his first term...before he sought re-election. Certainly the machines were just as illegal in 2004 as they are today, however, his critics are merely making a political argument. There is no valid legal defense for allowing these machines to continue to operate.
The state Supreme Court has, time and again, validated the governor's claim that not only are the machines illegal but that he has the authority to get rid of them when local authorities prove unwilling to enforce the state's laws. This has resulted in many theatrical raids on gambling facilities across the state. The bingo operators, having already built large and impressive looking facilities that employ thousands of workers essentially dared the governor to come after them and, to his credit, he did.
Governor Riley's anti-gambling task force, led by Mobile County District Attorney John Tyson, launched raids on both the Country Crossing and VictoryLand bingo emporiums. In Chickasaw, a city of 6,000, a bingo casino opened in February. The task force raided it the same day.
"We are now free to go enforce the laws against illegal gambling in this state from one end of Alabama to the other." - Task Force Commander John Tyson
As always, proponents of gambling claim that it benefits the state both in the employment it provides as well as the tax revenue that it generates. Though there is some truth to these claims, there is also a considerable downside to gambling that has reared its head here in Alabama, just as it does everyplace that has gambling. Corruption has blossomed fantastically.
Everywhere that gambling travels its' revenues inevitably end up purchasing political favors from the government officials whose responsibility it is to regulate the "fairness" of the gambling industry. However "fairness" in the eyes of casino owners is quite a bit different than "fairness" in the eyes of others.
For all of the howling over the benefits that gambling supposedly provides through employment and tax revenues it must be remembered that this revenue is largely being earned from those least able to afford it...the poor. Whereas our tax structure is designed to progressively increase the tax rates of higher earners and essentially leave the poorest earners free of any tax responsibility. Gambling, on the other hand, entices earners of the least income to risk all they have on a shortcut to wealth. One would be hard pressed to find a more immoral business model than that. Which brings us back to the concept of fairness. Consider this:
Former Mayor Larry Langford, who was ousted after being convicted of bribery, won 555 electronic bingo jackpots over three years at a casino run by a longtime friend and supporter, according to newly disclosed tax records. The tax returns show he claimed winning about $1.5 million gambling at various casinos from 2006 to 2008, but he says he lost at least that much. On one day in 2008, he won 36 jackpots totaling $96,000 at VictoryLand, owned by Milton McGregor. - Associated Press
Ahh, fairness... If you were gambling in the same casino as the esteemed former mayor of Birmingham do you believe you would have had a "fair" chance of winning? After all, certain machines were rigged to win for the former mayor. Would it not likewise be reasonable to assume that the rest of the machines were just as rigged to lose in order to replace the revenue that was needed to bribe the former mayor? Or do you really believe he was that lucky? You are not gambling when the outcome is pre-determined. The rest of the patrons in the gambling establishment were essentially unwitting conspirators in the bribe. This is fairness in the eyes of the gambling industry.
Since our governor has been winning his legal fight against illegal gambling the casino owners in Alabama decided their next best idea was to work to get the laws changed to make it legal. This too ultimately led to failure as they were unable to get either the laws changed or a ballot referendum that would have allowed voters to have a say in the matter. Keep in mind that the state of Alabama voted against a state lottery in spite of the fact that we are surrounded on all sides by states that do have a lottery. A state that rejects a lottery is not likely to choose to legalize slot machine gambling.
However, the failed battle in the Alabama legislature has resulted in yet another fantastic debacle of corruption. Once again the air is afoul with indictments:
A vote-buying scheme in the Legislature involved four state senators, two casino owners, lobbyists and millions of dollars in bribes in an attempt to legalize electronic bingo, according to an indictment announced Monday by the Justice Department.
Federal agents swept across Alabama on Monday arresting the 11 people charged in the indictment, including Sens. Larry Means, D-Attalla; Jim Preuitt, R-Talladega; Quinton Ross Jr., D-Montgomery; and Harri Anne Smith, R-Slocomb.
Also arrested were Ronnie Gilley, developer of the Country Crossing casino in Dothan, and Milton McGregor, owner of VictoryLand casino in Shorter and a financial backer of Country Crossing.
Others arrested were lobbyists Jarrod Massey, Tom Coker and Robert “Bob” Geddie Jr.; Legislative Reference Service analyst Ray Crosby; and Country Crossing spokesman Jarrell W. “Jay” Walker.
The 39-count indictment stems from a federal corruption probe involving attempts to pass bills in 2009 and 2010 that would have allowed electronic bingo games to operate in Alabama. The bills failed, but federal prosecutors said that behind the scenes, operators of the two largest private casinos — McGregor and Gilley — and teams of lobbyists were offering millions in campaign contributions, benefit concerts by country music artists, free polling and hidden $1 million-a-year payments in return for votes.
“The alleged criminal scheme was astonishing in scope,” said Lanny Breuer, the head of the Justice Department's criminal division. “Indeed, as alleged in the indictment, the defendants' corrupt conduct infiltrated every layer of the legislative process in the state of Alabama.” - The Tuscaloosa News
A statement on behalf of Gov. Bob Riley said he had called the gambling bill that passed the Senate earlier this year, "the most corrupt piece of legislation ever considered by the Senate," and the action by the Justice Department shows he was exactly right. This is what happens everywhere gambling goes. But there are more ways to gamble. Some of the worst involve gambling with that which does not belong to you. There is another story making the rounds in Alabama and the rest of the country. It too involves gambling. It is the story of Auburn University's star quarterback Cameron Newton.
I'm sure that many of you are aware the sordid details of this evolving scandal. It is alleged that Newton's father, Cecil, (the latest in a long line of Reverends behaving badly) solicited upwards of $200,000 for his son to sign a letter of intent to play college football at Mississippi State University. Unfortunately for the younger Newton, the evidence piling up seems to, at the very least, implicate his father in this scheme whether or not any of the allegations suggesting that someone on behalf Auburn University fulfilled his demands prove true or not. As of yet there is no proof that anybody paid anyone anything. However, just the act of soliciting payment is a violation of NCAA rules that could lead to Cameron Newton being declared an ineligible player and subsequently void every game in which he participated.
New allegations and supposed evidence is is coming out daily, yet Auburn University and the fans that make up the Auburn nation have circled their wagons in defense of Cameron Newton. At the recent game against Georgia many fans could be seen holding signs suggesting that they were "All In" for Cam. The use of this gambling terminology is a suggestion that they are willing to risk everything on this one player. The look on former Heisman Trophy winner Bo Jackson, as he embraced Newton following an Auburn touchdown, was one of defiant arrogance. I've seen this look before. Democrats were wearing this look as they rammed their Health Care Law down the throats of an unwilling nation. It is clear that Auburn University and its' supporters are embracing their roles as martyrs...but for what? Some may find this display of support for the embattled quarterback admirable. I suffer no such admiration.
You see, Auburn was aware there was a problem before the season started. They knew that Mississippi State had reported the improper solicitation to the NCAA. They knew that if it were true that Cameron Newton could be declared ineligible to play. A cautious program would have suspended him pending an investigation. If, as they now claim, they truly believed in his, and their, innocence they could have just as quickly asked for him to be re-instated. That would have shielded the university from the consequences of any wrongdoing...assuming that some wealthy Auburn booster did not fulfill the elder Newton's request.
The NCAA is notoriously slow with their investigations. Had Auburn chose the cautious yet wise path, they could have been without the services of their superstar quarterback for several, if not all, of their games. Did I fail to mention that Auburn is undefeated, 11-0, and ranked #2 in the nation as of this writing? Without Newton Auburn would be lucky to be 6-5. So Auburn did what they had to do to win...they gambled.
But it's worse than that. It has become known that when Newton was a player at the University of Florida he broke the student honor code three times by getting caught cheating. It was also public knowledge that Newton was caught in possession of a stolen laptop. To be sure, it is somewhat despicable that Newton's private college records were made public in furtherance of this scandal. After all, a mountain of Freedom of information requests have failed to pry President Obama's college records out into the open, much like his mythical long form birth certificate. However, Auburn University was entitled to view Newton's college records. They were well aware of his previous behavior. Considering the seriousness of the solicitation allegations as well as an awareness of what kind of person Cameron Newton had proven to be just over a year before they sought his services, there was no justification for Auburn to gamble the reputation and integrity of their football program by playing him...yet they did.
Auburn's achievements on the field may prove to be all for naught. The NCAA is very likely to declare Cameron Newton an ineligible player and force Auburn to forfeit every game that they played with him. An 0-11 team might be about to play for the SEC championship. Perhaps LSU deserves to be there. Auburn might even play for a national championship. They would then be doing to someone else exactly as was done to them when an undefeated Auburn team was denied a chance to play for the title in 2004 because a University of Southern California team with an ineligible player was taking their spot. Auburn is at the mercy of the NCAA's interpretation of its' rules. If they are as consistent with their recent history of serious penalties for Alabama and USC, then Auburn's War Eagle is about to be cooked and served as a Thanksgiving meal.
College football in the south is big business and Cameron Newton was Auburn's shortcut to the top of that world. The people responsible for making the decision to play Cameron Newton are no different than a man or woman squandering their family's food and rent money to pull the lever on a bingo slot machine. They are no different than an elected official collecting unearned jackpots in defiance of the law. The people responsible for playing Cameron Newton are gamblers. Gamblers who were gambling with that which does not belong to them. Even if this whole thing were to magically go away and everyone were declared innocent it would not make the actions of Auburn University any less despicable. How dare they risk everything for THIS one man with documented past of questionable integrity? Regardless of what the NCAA chooses to do, someone needs to be fired. This was recklessness...but thats how gamblers behave. Perhaps Governor Riley ought to make Auburn University the target of his Gambling Task Force's next raid.
There are those who would suggest that we should just go ahead and pay college football players. After all, it is true that football and basketball programs rake in millions of dollars due to the efforts of these athletes. But I thought we ARE paying them already...or is a college education now considered to be of no value? I would dare say that a full scholarship to attend Auburn University is worth a lot more than the $200,000 Cecil Newton was looking to make by exploiting his son. I no more want to pay money to college football players than I want to legalize gambling, marijuana or homosexual marriage. Lowering standards is not the sign of a quality society. It is reflective of a society that is not as good as the one its' predecessors bequeathed to it. The people who had this world before us learned something over the first 6000 years of history. To accept lowered standards is to discard all of the knowledge that our ancestors acquired and admit our inferiority to them. If that is our choice then we are most definitely NOT the ones we have been waiting for.
We have a gambling problem in Alabama. Legalizing it won't fix it.