|Silver Star casino|
Mississippi gaming interests long have worried about possible competition from Alabama. Republican felon Jack Abramoff admitted in his book that he spent $20 million to help defeat Democrat Don Siegelman and his proposed education lottery, a plan designed to protect $400 million in Mississippi Choctaw annual gaming revenue.
History teaches that Mississippi gaming bosses especially worry about Alabama competition when their own facilities aren't performing well. We also know that certain Alabama politicos, of the Republican stripe, tend to help their Mississippi buddies endure tough times.
Is that happening now with the Alabama Supreme Court's recent ruling on e-bingo? Let's look at some facts.
How bad have things been next door in Mississippi. The numbers aren't in for 2014, but the ones for 2013 were the worst since Bill Clinton was in the White House. Reports the Mississippi Business Blog, from a January 2014 article:
Last year was the weakest gaming revenue year for Mississippi casinos since 1997, according to numbers released today by the Mississippi Gaming Commission.
In 2013, the 30 Mississippi casinos collected $2.136 billion in gross gaming revenue, which is money leftover after players’ winnings are subtracted from wagers. That’s the lowest since 1997 when 24 casinos collected $1.984 billion. The high mark for revenue was $2.891 billion in 2007. The 2013 total represents a 5.1 percent drop from the $2.251 billion collected in 2012.
Mississippi casino figures have been falling steadily since 2007 as more states legalize gaming in an effort to keep their gaming dollars at home. That competition has hurt the Mississippi River casinos (and especially the Tunica area), which have seen revenue fall from a high of $1.589 billion in 2007 to $1.072 billion in 2013.
Those figures do not include information from the Mississippi Choctaws' three casinos, which do not have to report to the state commission. Reports for tribal gaming, from Casino City's Indian Gaming Industry Report, tend to run about two years behind schedule--and the 2012 numbers paint a grim picture for Indian facilities, too. Revenue growth at Indian facilities in 2012 fell behind non-tribal facilities for the first time in almost two decades, according to a report from the Jackson Clarion-Ledger:
Casino City’s report shows revenue at Mississippi’s three Choctaw Indian casinos declined 6 percent in 2012.
The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians announced in December that a new loan and refinancing of another loan would allow it to fully reopen its Golden Moon Hotel and Casino and renovate Silver Star Hotel and Casino.
Golden Moon has operated only on weekends since the start of 2009, when its operating days were slashed during the depths of the recession as casino visitorship dwindled.
How did Mississippi Indian gaming compare to tribal facilities around the country? Only Connecticut saw a steeper revenue decline.
If the Alabama Supreme Court is trying to help the Choctaws in a time of need, it probably isn't the first time relief has come from Alabama officials. Former Governor Bob Riley, the beneficiary of Abramoff's millions in 2002, picked a curious time to launch raids against non-Indian facilities in Alabama, claiming electronic-bingo there was illegal.
We reported on Riley's actions with a couple of posts--"Mississippi Choctaws were hemorrhaging money at the time of Riley's raids in Alabama" and "Choctaws faced huge debt payment when Bob Riley launched bingo raids in Alabama."
Attorney General Luther Strange, another GOPer who claims to be anti gambling, has continued Riley's policy of raiding privately held gaming facilities in Alabama. And the Alabama Supreme Court has consistently sided with Riley and Strange, at times ignoring the court's own precedent.
The high court's recent ruling to unilaterally ban electronic bingo is particularly curious because it seems to have no basis in fact or law. Is it based largely on the fact that tribal casinos in Mississippi are struggling? Does our all-Republican court somehow benefit from Choctaw cash that has been flowing into Alabama for more than a dozen years?
We suspect the answer to both questions is yes.