After years of being harassed by the wacko bird contingent of Alabama politics at both the state and local level, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, Alabama’s only federally-recognized Indian tribe, is now hoping to develop gaming operations on its Florida property.
Earlier this week, Band Chairman Buford Rolin sent Florida Gov. Rick Scott a letter asking for a compact to establish a tribe-operated Class III gaming facility one mile south of the Alabama line, near its existing casino in Atmore, Ala., Gov. Scott quickly agreed to a meeting.
Federal law allows electronic bingo at the tribe’s Alabama casinos, but to offer Class III options like table games or slot machines, the tribe needs a compact with the state. Such compacts typically enable the state to collect a portion of the revenue the games produce. Florida’s existing agreement with the Seminole tribe, for example, has produced $1 billion in revenue since it went into effect six years ago.
Alabama’s elected officials, though, have shown no interest in forming such a compact despite the revenue it could generate. Instead, they have attempted time and again to destroy the tribe’s existing Alabama gaming operations, and time and again they have been rebuffed by the federal government.
Now, the Poarch Band is asking Florida for permission to do there what it can’t do here – offer gaming choices that will create more jobs and produce substantial revenue.
Personal judgments about gambling aside, what is the logic of prohibiting an Indian tribe from offering table games and slot machines on one side of the state line if they can do so on the other? Indian gaming opponents sincerely concerned about potential negative consequences surely wouldn’t support a policy that, without minimizing those consequences for us, confers all the benefits of gaming on Florida. Isn’t Alabama already losing enough revenue to casinos in Mississippi and lotteries in Florida, Georgia and Tennessee?
Not according to rabid Indian gaming opponents like state Sen. Bryan Taylor, R-Prattville, who recently went so far as to exclude Tribal property from proposed legislation legalizing Sunday alcohol sales in Wetumpka, equating the Poarch Band with a business wanting “to expand its privilege to profit from the sale of alcohol in my county.”
So much for “this land is your land, this land is my land.”
Paul Bechman, a Republican state house member, objected to the proposal because it was blatantly discriminatory toward the tribe, and Taylor’s petty antics eventually killed the entire effort. For crusaders like Taylor, even local alcohol sales legislation provides an opportunity for political grandstanding if it can be made into a debate about what really makes them uncomfortable – the almost universally accepted idea that Indian tribes should be afforded a significant degree of autonomy in governing their own reservations. The issue is no longer opposition to gaming in Alabama, but instead an inability to acknowledge that tribal territory is not, actually, Alabama.
Taylor may be the loudest and crudest opponent of the Poarch Band’s sovereignty, but unfortunately he is not alone in the Alabama Republican Party. Our state’s sole Indian tribe, after all, has received a better reception from the Tea Party-backed, conservative Republican governor of Florida than it has ever received from Republican officials in this state. Unlike Alabama’s leaders, Gov. Scott is at least willing to discuss compacts that could produce significant revenue and employ hundreds of people.
Gov. Scott is just one of many Republicans who has supported Indian tribes and Indian gaming. The federal legislation regulating Indian gaming was signed by Ronald Reagan and sponsored by Sen. John McCain, a later Republican presidential candidate himself. Indian gaming furthers conservative policy objectives because it reduces poverty on Indian reservations and in surrounding communities through economic development and job creation, lightening the burden on publicly funded anti-poverty programs. Tribal compacts also give states an option for allowing revenue-generating casinos while severely limiting the number of places where they can be built, providing a potential compromise between proponents and opponents of legalized gaming.
Alabama needs more Republicans like Rep. Beckman fighting to reaffirm the party’s proud history on this issue. Otherwise, the Republican message will be obscured by shrill ideologues who bristle at the very idea of a prosperous, sovereign Indian tribe generously contributing to surrounding communities and the state.
Their intolerance could cost Alabama a lot of money.