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THURSDAY, APRIL 5, 2007
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Committee OKs bill on gambling machines

MONTGOMERY(AP) — A House committee approved a bill Wednesday that would legalize high stakes electronic bingo games at greyhound dog tracks in Birmingham and Mobile.

The bill, by Rep. Marcel Black, D-Tuscumbia, provides for 20 percent of gross revenue from the bingo games to be taxed with tax revenue helping to fund Alabama's Medicaid program. The bill would also outlaw other types of electronic gaming machines, which Black said would stop the spread of the games across the state.

"There's not going to be gambling at every little convenience store at every crossroads in the state," Black said.

The House Tourism and Travel Committee approved the bill by voice vote. It now goes to the full House for debate. The bill is a constitutional amendment and would have to be approved in a statewide referendum if passed by the Legislature.

Speaking in favor of the bill at Wednesday's meeting was Randy Brinson, chairman of the Alabama Christian Coalition. Brinson said he and his group are opposed to gambling, but said he believes Black's bill would confine the games to the greyhound tracks, where gambling is already legal. The electronic bingo games are legal at greyhound tracks in Macon and Greene counties.

"We've got to confine gambling to where it is right now," Brinson said.

Brinson became chairman of the Alabama Christian Coalition last year after the organization's previous leaders broke away and formed a separate group, Christian Action of Alabama.

But the Rev. Dan Ireland, the director of the Alabama Citizens Action Program and an outspoken opponent of gambling, said the bill would expand gambling, by making the games legal at the two tracks. He said the games would hurt Alabama families.

"There's going to be a lot of losers before you pay out a prize to anybody," Ireland said.

Officials from the two tracks told committee members that business has been hurt by lotteries in Georgia, Tennessee and Florida and by casinos in Mississippi.

Lori Meadows, representing the Mobile Greyhound Park, said the number of employees at the track has been cut in half in recent years as former customers chose to instead go to casinos in nearby Biloxi, Miss. She told committee members that defeating the bill would not stop gambling in Alabama.

"It's here. It's here to stay," Meadows said.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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