State losing money either way

Published 11:45 pm Saturday, March 21, 2009

With the raid of White Hall Entertainment Center comes a lot of questions that nobody will be able to answer soon. Some people say the raid last week during the early morning hours by the Governor’s Task Force on Illegal Gambling was well deserved. Others have shaken their heads in wonder and asked why other similar gaming centers weren’t targeted at the same time.

There’s no knowing the mind of politicians or bureaucrats who run the government at the behest of those politicians, so we’ll let that one go.

But here’s the rub. Alabama needs to do something about losing thousands of dollars to Mississippi and Louisiana from those folks who drive across the borders for some entertainment. And a lot of the entertainment has more to do with relaxing than spending a hard-earned paycheck slamming quarters into slots.

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Several years ago, I was publisher and part owner in a magazine that focused on the lifestyles of those who frequented casinos in Mississippi and Louisiana. A good many of our readers came from Alabama. They wanted to know which slots were the hottest in what casinos. They wanted to know which casinos had single-deck blackjack and which ones had poker rooms. But many of our readers also wanted to know about the cost of hotel rooms, entertainment offered by the casinos and what fare the casino restaurants offered.

During that two-year adventure, I stayed in a casino most of the time and talked to the people who played and worked in them. Casino jobs are not bad jobs. They are skilled and they put people to work — people who would not ordinarily have jobs that pay $10-$15 per hour. There are varieties of jobs, from maintenance of machines or hotel maintenance to cooking to hosting to accounting. It takes a small village that works 24-hours a day, seven days a week to keep a resort going.

Then come the players. Yes, some people abuse gambling, just as some people abuse alcohol or food or shopping or any other thing you could imagine as an addiction. But other players come for fun.

I’ve met families who drove from Alabama while the dad worked businesses and mom and the kids enjoyed a hotel room, swimming pool, buffets and restaurants and all different kinds of live entertainment from various venues. Mom and children generally shop in the cities or towns that surround those casinos, spending plenty of money to help the economy go.

Certainly, nothing comes without regulation. The casinos in Mississippi and Louisiana are strictly regulated. And when that has fallen through, the courts have stepped in. But those occurrences have been rare.

I won’t advocate casinos popping up all over Alabama. But this is certain: We’re losing tax dollars and other revenue to other states. We need to find a way to keep people here.

Wonder how many of those folks who usually go to White Hall for a Saturday scooted over to Philadelphia, Miss., for a Saturday and maybe a Sunday?