Mayor says gambling bill could put casino and dome in downtown Birmingham

Credit: Mike McClanahan Birmingham Mayor William Bell and State Senator Del Marsh introducing lottery and gaming legislation on May 5, 2015.

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WIAT) — A Republican State Senate leader dropped his controversial gaming revenue bill Tuesday. Birmingham’s mayor said it could have staggering implications for the Magic City, including a dome.

The sponsor of Senate Bill 453 said the idea behind it is simple: raise taxes for companies and families or tax new types of gambling.

Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh is pushing the bill to set a referendum vote on two constitutional amendments.

One would allow casino style games at dog tracks. The other would establish a lottery in exchange for tax revenue.

The bill would also encourage the governor to negotiate a compact with tribal casinos for additional games in exchange for tax revenue.

“We have hundreds of millions of dollars of Alabama each and every year leave the state putting money in facilities in other states that fund programs and other states as well,” said Marsh.

Marsh’s bill is already getting support from some members of the opposite party, and a huge vote of support from the mayor of Birmingham, William Bell.

Bell made a surprise visit to join Marsh at a Tuesday press conference in Montgomery, where Marsh laid out the proposal. The study behind the legislation suggests that the gambling revenue would have a $1.28 billion economic impact on the state and create 11,000 jobs.

Clutching two lottery tickets from Mississippi as visual aids, Bell spoke on behalf of Marsh’s bill.

“Birmingham would be one of the focal points, and I would dare say we would be looking at probably 50 percent of what would be increased by having gaming in these areas. It’s a no-brainer for me,” Bell.

Bell thinks the legislation could change the face of Birmingham forever and usher in a dome.

“It would change our outlook on the multi-purpose facility that we commonly refer to as the dome, because we could show that we would have growth over a period of time to sustain the dome,” said Bell. “In looking at the bill it does not necessarily say you can only have it at that track but within the city or the municipality where the track is located.  If we chose a location somewhere like the Civic Center area it would have a huge impact on that particular area in terms of economic development.”

It’s not clear if the proposed legislation would allow more than one facility in an area that already has approved wagering.

Marsh reiterated during the press conference that the bill would not expand gaming beyond where it already exists.

Random street interviews with Alabama voters near Montgomery seemed to be leaning towards a lottery if nothing else, instead of a tax hike.

“I’d rather see the gambling,” said Casey Prueitt.

“I think we should get a lottery like other states. It would do us a lot of good,” said Shannon Williams.

The Governor is standing behind his revenue creation plan, which involves raising taxes and eliminating certain corporate exemptions.

The idea of letting dog tracks become full-fledged casinos in four places around Alabama is getting resistance from some of Marsh’s fellow Republicans.

“I think that Bill is too encompassing. We don’t need to go down that road to fix our problem in the state government and start using gambling money to fill our general hole, our general fund hole,” said Sen. Slade Blackwell, (R)-Mountain Brook.

Copyright 2015 WIAT 42 News

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