Birmingham Mayor William Bell traveled to Montgomery today to show his support for Senate leader Del Marsh’s legislation to expand gaming options in Alabama. In a press conference today, Mayor Bell echoed Marsh’s call for a referendum on his gaming proposal. He added that at least half of the 11,000 jobs estimated in an economic impact study on the gaming proposal would go to Birmingham.
“That means more wage-an-hour jobs, more earning power and more spending power for a lot of people in that area,” he said. “You would have those dollars turning over into the community, increasing the level of revenue we have at the municipal level to do a lot of the things that we currently do have revenue for.”
Mayor Bell told ALToday.com that Marsh’s proposal would mean new construction, revenue, and jobs at Birmingham Race Course, specifically. He also said that added entertainment would make the city – and the state overall – an attractive option for larger conferences and conventions.
“It would increase our economic footprint tremendously,” he said.
The mayor dismissed concerns that a state lottery and more casino games could have a disparate impact on low-income residents, saying that a strong gaming commission could oversee how the facilities operate.
“People are going to gamble,” he said. “I look at the various parking lots where people leave their vehicles to get on buses to go to Mississippi. That is money leaving our state to go to other areas, and we need to find a way to capture those dollars and keep them right here in the state of Alabama.”
On Tuesday, Sen. Marsh introduced Senate Bill 453 a bill to establish an Alabama Lottery and authorize Vegas-style gaming in the state’s four existing racetracks.
Gov. Robert Bentley has rejected the gambling proposal outright, saying that it would not address current budget concerns.
“My legislation doesn’t deal with the immediate problems, but I think it solves the longer term problems,” added Marsh. “None of the other models bring jobs. This is as much about economic development as it is about solving our budget issues.”
Marsh said he expected to hold a committee meeting in his legislation sometime next week.