Riley referred to electronic bingo machines as a "cancer." He praised a ruling by a judge that found electronic bingo machines in Walker County to be illegal. And the Riley administration apparently is trying to halt a shipment of electronic bingo machines to the Country Crossing development near Dothan.
So perhaps now is an appropriate time to remind the public that one of Riley's closest associates reportedly has ties to gambling.
Montgomery-based political consultant Dax Swatek, who ran Riley's 2006 campaign, has lobbied on behalf of gambling interests, according to multiple reports in the Alabama press.
In a 2007 article, the Montgomery Advertiser's Francis X. Gilpin reported:
State ethics commission filings show Swatek registered April 10 to lobby on behalf of the Jones Group LLC, a Montgomery public affairs consultant. The company is registered to lobby on behalf of clients that include Greenetrack Inc.
Greenetrack, in the west Alabama town of Eutaw, features bingo and simulcasts of greyhound and thoroughbred horse racing. The facility once was owned by Paul W. Bryant Jr., son of the late University of Alabama football coach Paul "Bear" Bryant and now a member of the university's board of trustees.
Alabama Rep. Marcel Black (D-Tuscumbia) accused Swatek of trying to defeat a measure that would allow high-stakes bingo machines at racing facilities in Birmingham and Mobile. Swatek's motive, Black said, was to protect Greenetrack. Reported the Associated Press:
State Rep. Marcel Black, D-Tuscumbia, has accused Swatek of working for unnamed gambling entities and coordinating phone banks and a media campaign against the bill.
The story went on to note Swatek's role with the Jones Group, which lobbies on behalf of Greenetrack. AP, quoting a newspaper in Mobile, reported:
Neither Swatek nor Gregory Jones of the Jones Group would comment on what relationship, if any, existed between Swatek and Greenetrack, the Press-Register reported Wednesday.
Here's how the Montgomery Advertiser described the bill that Black supported and Swatek opposed:
House Bill 527 would let Alabama voters decide if tracks in Birmingham and Mobile can resume electronic bingo games along with their pari-mutuel wagering. Under the proposal, the state would get a cut of the bingo profits and earmark the money for the cash-strapped Medicaid program.
The irony of Swatek lobbying on behalf of gambling interests did not escape Black. Reported the Montgomery Advertiser:
Rep. Marcel Black, D-Tuscumbia, finds that ironic. He said just last year Dax R. Swatek was instead leading a successful re-election campaign for Riley, an outspoken foe of gambling.
"He's taken another position for profit," Black said of Swatek.
Of course, Riley himself long has been a hypocrite on gambling. It has been widely reported that he took $13 million in Mississippi Choctaw gambling money, laundered through disgraced Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, for his 2002 gubernatorial campaign.
That, of course, has not stopped Riley from being an anti-gambling crusader throughout his two terms as governor. The latest battleground appears to be the Country Crossing development in Houston County, which is set to open on December 1.
Riley seems to have laid down a gauntlet over a shipment of 1,700 electronic gaming machines from Nevada. As usual, the Riley administration is acting in a two-faced manner. The governor's press secrestary said reports that the machines would be confiscated were false. But the governor himself seemed to make his intentions quite clear, according to an Associated Press report:
Riley said Friday that his staff has been making phone calls to make sure that “gaming commissions and the people who make the machines know it’s illegal to bring the machines into Alabama.”
Riley said he believes rulings by several judges in recent weeks have made it clear that electronic bingo machines are illegal in Alabama.
“We don’t think there is any ambiguity in the law and there never has been,” Riley said.
Riley also made it clear that he does not intend to allow any form of gambling at Country Crossing:
Riley said he supports building a development in Houston County that would include country music venues and restaurants.
“It would be great. It could be the next Branson, Mo. But Branson does not allow gambling and I’m not going to allow gambling to be a part of this,” Riley said, referring to the popular country music-based development in Missouri.
Folks in Houston County are standing up to the governor. A rally for Country Crossing drew a large crowd, according to the Dothan Eagle:
Hundreds of public officials, business owners, construction workers and community residents attended a Friday morning rally of support for the country music entertainment project, where several politicians and agency heads took Riley to task over his lack of support, and efforts to defeat the project.
Others simply stated the obvious: Unemployment in Alabama is at 10 percent, the highest in almost 25 years, and third fastest growing in the U.S. Country Crossing offers jobs, Dothan Area Chamber of Commerce President Matt Parker said, and plenty of them.
“Since before this was announced on February 25, 2008, we saw what this project could do – create jobs, create opportunity,” Parker said. “That’s jobs and opportunity in what is probably the worst economic climate since the Great Depression.”
Parker said what seems to be lost among the debate and lawsuits on the legality of electronic charitable bingo, is that this represents the second largest economic development project in the state, which will create up to 6,000 jobs over a period of five years.
“This is a private investment with no tax breaks, lots of community support, great investors and it is a great development that creates a destination for our market.”
Parker estimates the development will generate a half billion dollars in tax revenues over 10 years and another $20 million in education and charitable funding. That's the kind of economic development Riley almost always supports.
So why is the governor standing in the way of Country Crossing? Is the opposition part of Riley's almost eight-year effort to protect the interests of the Mississippi Choctaws who helped get him elected? Sure looks that way.
No wonder Dax Swatek fits in so well with the Riley clan. Say one thing and do another--that's the Riley way.