State Lawmakers in the Dark About Poarch Creek Deal

The new Poarch Creek commercial urges viewers to call their legislators to convince them to take the $250 million deal intended to fix the current state budget shortfalls, but local representatives say it’s out of their hands, and they barely know anything about the compact’s details.

Whether or not the state will accept the compact depends on Governor Bentley; it won’t be put to a vote according to State Senator Rusty Glover.

The Poarch Creek's launched an expansive state-wide media campaign including a minute-long commercial.
The Poarch Creek’s launched an expansive state-wide media campaign including a minute-long commercial.

“They do mention it on the commercial to contact their legislators. I’m not sure exactly why they would do that unless they were just contacting them to vote ‘no’ on the other gambling initiative, but it is out of our hands. It’s for the Governor,” Glover said. “The way our constitution is set up, the Governor in our state—unlike other states—can negotiate this himself. And, he’s the only one who can make the negotiations with Poarch Creek.”

Jennifer Ardis, a representative for the Governor’s office said, “the Governor’s goal is to fundamentally change the way the state budgets. There are a lot of questions regarding the proposed offer from the Poarch Creeks. Whatever the details of their offer include, it will not solve the budget crisis that begins Oct. 1.”

Local state representatives, Victor Gatson and Margie Wilcox, both said they didn’t know any of the details of the offer and couldn’t make a comment.

Representative Chris Pringle said the only information he’s received on it has come from the media. He said it appears to be a “clean-cut” agreement, but he does have concerns about the deal’s stipulation to give the Poarch Creeks exclusive gaming rights in the state.  Even if it seems like an appealing idea now, he doesn’t know how it would affect the state 20 years from now.

A vocal gambling opponent, Representative Jack Williams, said he thinks the deal would be a bad idea. “So far, what I know about the deal, I’m against it personally because I’m against any kind of gambling personally from a religious standpoint. And, if I intended to go along with it, I would hate to see Mohawk and Chocktaw Indians in Citronelle and all of them be left out who could never come back in on this deal,” Williams said.

Only one of the representatives WKRG contacted received any calls or emails in response to the Poarch Creek ad that rolled out in every major Alabama news market on Tuesday. Barbara Drummond said one person called her office about it. Drummond said, “I think given the size of the state’s deficit and the depth and impact it has on citizens’ lives, we should look at all options that are fair and equitable. Medicaid expansion and gaming are viable options. We should give voters the opportunity to vote on gaming.”

With the special session looming, most said they don’t think gambling should be a topic at all when they meet because they said it won’t solve the current issues.

This comes after Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh proposed a bill to allow for a statewide vote on a lottery that drew a flurry of attention and debate when it was introduced in the spring session.

“Clearly I’m all for giving the people a right to vote on any situation, so I’m in favor of putting the lottery up for a vote,” Wilcox said. “But, I do believe that we shouldn’t get distracted during this special session. This is not something that would clear up this budget cycle because it wouldn’t go into effect right away.”

Representative Gatson echoed her response by saying he didn’t think it would come up for debate during the special session.

Senator Glover said he’d prefer to give the Poarch Creeks exclusive gambling rights to expanding gambling throughout the state with a lottery; something he has actively opposed.

“From what I’m hearing, what they [Poarch Creeks] want is really to be left alone.  They wouldn’t be expanding gambling. They would provide a lot of tax money that we’re not collecting right now. It looks as though they’re going to be here—the federal law is going to allow them exist in gaming. I think as long as they’re not going to expand gambling, the governor is probably going to consider it.” Glover said, adding that he believes there would be negative repercussions from expanding gambling in the state, even though a lottery has polled well with Alabamians.

“You bring it in their backyard, and it will increase gambling 3 or 4 times more than we have now, and I’m very afraid of what it does to families. I’ve seen the statistics, and they’re horrifying.”

Pringle said he’s never voted on a gambling/lottery bill before because he’s never liked the wording of them, but he said he’s not close-minded to the idea.  “It depends on what’s in it. I’m not necessarily for it, but I’m not going to jump up and down against it either,” Pringle said over the phone, adding he’ll just have to read more about it before making a decision.

WKRG reached out to Randy Davis, Bill Hightower, David Sessions, and Vivian Figures, but they were unavailable.

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