Gambling bill would outlaw bingo in Houston County

DOTHAN, Ala. (WTVY) -Center Stage Alabama could be forced to close if a gambling expansion bill is approved because that legislation would repeal a constitutional amendment that legalized bingo in Houston County.

We’re concerned as it is written (the bill) essentially will close (Center Stage) down,” Houston County Chairman Mark Culver told WTVY on Thursday.

However, State Senator Donnie Chesteen (R-Geneva), said after consulting with state leaders, he believes any shutdown would be brief. He anticipates Center Stage, with its electronic bingo machines, would likely reopen quickly under authority granted by a state gambling commission proposed in the bill.

Benefiting from the measure introduced this week by State Senator Del Marsh (R-Anniston) would be the state’s four greyhound tracks and tribal casinos that would gain slots, table games, and sports wagering.

The Poarch Creek Indians would also add a fourth Wind Creek Casino in north Alabama, near the Tennessee and Georgia state lines. The tribe currently operates electronic bingo casinos in Atmore, Montgomery, and Wetumpka.

Snubbed in Marsh’s plan, though, is the Wiregrass region where Center Stage is the only gaming option.

“We are working diligently with our local (legislative) delegation to secure an amendment that would include the Wiregrass in Senate Bill 214. Our area is uniquely located in the southeast corner of Alabama, far away from other proposed locations,” Center Stage said in an emailed statement.

It estimates millions of dollars and over 6,000 direct and indirect jobs are at stake.

Marsh said Thursday he would consider adding two more casinos to his legislative package estimated to produce $500 million for the state but there is no indication Center Stage would be considered.

His bill, that also proposes a state operated lottery, awaits a Senate floor vote when lawmakers return to session on February 22. If passed, the measure would head to the House.

Sixty percent of lawmakers in both chambers must vote in favor of the bill to push the constitutional amendment to a referendum that would be scheduled no later than 2022.

Besides Houston County, several other counties would also have their bingo amendments rescinded if the bill, as worded, passes.

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