Skipping a Fight: Steele pushed bingo without county resolution

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 8, 2004

State Senator Charles Steele said he is trying to protect bingo gaming in Greene County from the potential negative affects of a proposed Bingo For Books bill. “We’re protecting ourselves in terms of the tax structure,” he said.

If Greenetrack shows it is losing revenues because of possible bingo gaming in Birmingham, the rate of state and county tax on bingo parlors will be adjusted. State senators representing Birmingham voted for Steele’s amendment.

Steele hopes that legislators would realize that bingo gaming is a benefit for a poor county such as Greene. “This is all Greene County has,” he said. “…Birmingham can do more than bingo. Let us have bingo.”

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However, “in case it passes, we have a (tax) formula that will make us whole.”

In addition, two local bills related to gaming in Greene County received approval last week from the Alabama Senate Tourism and Marketing Committee. Both bills were sponsored by State Senator Charles Steele.

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.

“It is a situation where timing is of the essence,” Steele said. “As a state senator I do have a vision, and I know these are tough issues.”

Some county politicians won’t get behind the gaming issue without the concern there will be political damage, the senator said. “So rather than get them in the crossfire, I take the heat.

“I know Commissioner Beeker cannot support bingo or any type of gaming to any degree – because of his personal conviction.” The chief of staff for the county commission, Rev. James Carter, also doesn’t support bingo, Steele said.

“Why go through that – when I know it’s going to be a bloodbath – and we don’t need that.

“I knew to a large degree that I could not have gotten a resolution in regards to (last year’s bingo bill) because (Beeker and Carter) didn’t want it. It was just going to slow me down. We were dealing with a special session….Had I gotten in that fight with the local government, then I would have gotten into a fight before I got to Montgomery. And it would have never passed. Publicity would have killed it.”

Steele believes bingo gaming is the foundation for a better future in Greene County. “We use bingo to bring in other industry. You’ve got the infrastructure with education (receiving a portion of bingo revenue). We anticipate a hotel coming in the near future. When you’re spending money, it attracts money.”