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WEDNESDAY, APRIL 11, 2007
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Sponsor removes
electronic bingo bill

By M.J. Ellington
mjellington@decaturdaily.com (334) 262-1104

MONTGOMERY — A state House bill that prompted telephone calls to lawmakers Easter Sunday received a potentially deadly blow Tuesday afternoon.

Rep. Marcel Black, D-Tuscumbia, had sponsored a bill to legalize electronic bingo games at some state dog tracks and raise millions in tax dollars for Medicaid. But he removed the bill from consideration before the full House could consider it.

No one had a clear idea who prompted the calls to legislators, but Rep. Micky Hammon, R-Decatur, said he received so many that he stopped counting.

He said most people who called him did not understand the bill.

Hammon said part of the bill, which would limit electronic bingo machines to the seven counties where gambling is already legal, was appealing.

"I still might change my mind at the last minute," Hammon said.

But the call for a vote never came.

Late Tuesday, Hammon said, dog tracks in Green and Macon counties, the Poarch Creek Indians and a company outside Alabama that wants to operate a casino in the state helped kill the bill.

"The outside company thought the bill might keep them from ever operating in Alabama," Hammon said.

Black's bill did, however, have support from an unlikely source: the Christian Coalition of Alabama.

Coalition President Dr. David Brinson, a Montgomery gastroenterologist, said his organization supported the bill's limits on the spread of gambling and the additional Medicaid funding.

Black said Medicaid stood to receive about $55 million in state taxes from the games, making the state eligible for up to $200 million in federal funds to be used for health care for the poor.

Rep. John Rogers, D-Birmingham, said the bill's apparent failure could pave the way for a bill legalizing casino gambling in other parts of the state. Rogers said he expects to introduce such a bill in the House on Wednesday.

"They had enough votes to pass it at one time," Rogers said. "Nobody could explain it well. The only way to do this now is through full-scale casino gambling. We are surrounded by states that allow gambling."

Reps. Ronald Grantland, D-Hartselle, and Henry White, D-Athens, said they did not receive calls Sunday but probably would have voted for Black's bill.

Rep. Bill Dukes, D-Decatur, said he would not have. Reps. Jeremy Oden, R-Eva, and Jody Letson, D-Hillsboro, said they were undecided.

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