Greenetrack CEO says bingohas helped an entire county

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 5, 2004

“I’m concerned about (Greene) county,” said Greenetrack CEO Luther Winn. “I’m concerned about people not having jobs. We are providing that. Our employment is 270 people.

“As long as we can bring folks to work, as long as we can make contributions to try to improve the educational system…the fire association, try to get the 911 system up and running, I would think the county commission as well as the citizens of Greene County would be supporting Greenetrack.”

Two local bills related to gaming in Greene County received approval Thursday from the Alabama Senate Tourism and Marketing Committee. Both bills were sponsored by State Senator Charles Steele.

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The first bill would give the Greene County Commission the authority to approve Sunday liquor sales, on premises only. The second bill raises the annual salary of members of the Greene County Racing Commission from approximately $30,000 to $42,000.

Both bills will go to the full Senate for consideration.

Greene County Commission Chairman Chip Beeker Jr. said Friday he had not been consulted on either bill. “I assume none of the commissioners knew about it,” he said. “I would not have been supportive of an all-day liquor license for the track, but I wasn’t asked.”

The customers at Greenetrack have requested the ability to buy liquor on Sunday, Winn said. His company is a service business, he said. “If they want to see the county progress, they (the county commission) will vote for it.”

The county commission was also not consulted last year before the legislation for bingo gaming was introduced. Although he opposed bingo gaming, Beeker would have liked for the county to receive a percent of the revenues if the citizens were to approve it. “I certainly would have asked that the county get something out of it,” the chairman said. “I didn’t know anything about it until it had passed.”

The Greene County General Fund will now only receive a small portion of the bingo revenue through the county racing commission.

Legislators are currently considering a Bingo for Books bill that would allow all state dog tracks to offer bingo gaming. The tracks would have to pay tax to the state and county.

“We did get some kind of protection from the amount of taxes that we would pay,” Winn said. An amendment from Senator Steele allows for the Department of Revenue to take a six-month assessment. If the amount of revenue falls under a certain percentage, Winn said, Greenetrack would get some relief, a one percent reduction in taxes to the state but there would be a half-percentage increase to taxes paid to the county.

Beeker wasn’t sure how bingo in Birmingham would hurt Greenetrack. “It would have a negative affect on us,” Winn said. Nineteen to 20 percent of its customers come from Jefferson County. “…You have to automatically assume that they majority of them would go to the establishment that was closest to them.”

Beeker said he was caught in a Catch 22. The Bingo for Books bill might hurt local gaming, but it also offers a percentage of revenue for the county. “We need the revenue,” he said.

“I don’t know who Chairman Beeker represents, but I know with everything that we’ve done, the citizens of Greene County and Greene County in general has progressed,” Winn said.

“I was talking to one of the local country store owners, and they were saying that their sales have increased because there are more people in Greene County working. I would think that would be everyone’s concern. If people have another agenda, then I don’t know (what that is).

“The courthouse that Chairman Beeker goes to every morning, Greenetrack pays for that. Greenetrack has been a good corporate citizen of the county – even before bingo.

“We’re trying to elevate people,” Winn said. “We didn’t open (bingo gaming) paying any single employee minimum wage. That’s what people around Greene County are used to paying folks.” Winn wants his employees to be proud of where they work and to have good benefits.

“The people who fight bingo, what is their alternative? If they offer something better than bingo, let’s take a look at it….People can talk junk all you want.

Is a raise for the members of the county racing commission (Carol Zippert, Sarah Duncan and Lynette Brown) justified? “If the commissioners have increased duties, then I would like to have had an opportunity to know about it,” Beeker said. “It’s my understanding that they do not have any increased duties. If they have anything whatsoever to do with bingo, I’m out in the dark.”

Simulcast betting has actually increased by 14 percent at Greenetrack with the advent of bingo gaming, Winn said. “In the same bill, we’re asking that we be allowed to simulcast every day. That will require the racing commission to spend more time here.” The office of the racing Commission is located on the second floor at Greenetrack.

“The last bill that did any kind of adjustment to the racing commission salaries was somewhere in the (1970’s),” Winn said. “They regulate racing. They can look at anything they want to (including the books).”