Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Right to play bingo = civil rights

Since I last wrote about the Alabama Bingo Wars, the situation has only further escalated. To briefly recap, gambling in Alabama is illegal, but bingo is legal in certain counties, and bingo machines, which are really just slot machines, are legal if they meet certain criteria set by the State Supreme Court. The Governor has declared that none of the machines in the state meet the criteria (he has no way of really knowing this) and he is trying to shut all of the bingo halls down.

Bingo halls have shut down on their own in order avoid being raided by the Governor’s anti-gambling taskforce. Even if the bingo machines are legal, the owners of the bingo halls rightly believe that once their machines are removed for inspection (and assets onsite seized), it will take months of legal wrangling to get them back. As a result, hundreds of workers (or thousands – it depends on who you ask) are now out of a job.

Meanwhile, Democrats in the State Senate tried and failed to pass a bill that would place a question on the ballot that would let the voters to decide if gambling should be legalized in Alabama. While the bill was terribly written, the bill’s death was a PR nightmare for the Governor. 1) The Governor has taken the position that the people should not be allowed to decide if gambling should be legalized and has failed to articulate just why; and 2) His objection to gambling is that it’s immoral, and yet, he accepted campaign contributions from Native American tribes that own casinos in Mississippi. Further, the former head of his anti-gambling taskforce got caught winning a jackpot at a Mississippi casino, and the current head of the taskforce accepted $100k in gambling money when he unsuccessfully ran for Attorney General a few years ago.

The jobs issue has become the chief rallying cry of the bingo operators, and last weekend they blew on Oberon’s horn for help. It appeared in the form of Jesse Jackson.

Last Saturday Jackson led a sparsely attended rally and march where he and others compared the Bingo Wars to the Civil Rights movement, and specifically voting rights (the rally took place the day before the Bloody Sunday anniversary).

Now, I think there is a legitimate racial element to the Bingo Wars. The majority of the employees at the bingo halls are black, and a lot of small counties that have legalized bingo and depend on its tax revenue are predominantly black. The Governor has never addressed the fact that his vision for a bingo free Alabama will put a lot of people out of work and dramatically shrink many counties’ budgets. And it also didn’t help when his wife, the First Lady of Alabama, asked hecklers at an anti-bingo rally to show respect to a “Southern lady.” But Jackson jumped the shark by comparing the “struggle” for legalized gambling to the struggle for equal rights.

One thing he said that struck me as particularly ridiculous, was that he asked the Governor to stop sending hundreds of State Troopers to raid bingo halls because the swarm of law enforcement officers reminds people of anti-black police tactics from the 1960s (for the record, the owners of the bingo halls are white, and I doubt any of them participated in civil rights marches in the '60s).

The rally itself was poorly executed. The MC packed in so many speakers in before Jackson that Jackson didn’t begin speaking until 40 minutes into it. For whatever reason, the MC was trying to delay Jackson speaking as long as possible. At one point he said: “Is that Joe Bob down there? Joe Bob, come on up here and say a few words.” No one there wanted to hear what Joe Bob had to say. Probably 30% of the crowd left before Jackson spoke. I only listened to Jackson for a few minutes because I had other things to do that day.

Here’s a short video from the rally and some pictures:

1 comment:

  1. This is very interesting. Never really heard about this before. Going to read up more about it.