Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports on the aftermath of an egregious case where government doggedly persisted sticking its fat, ugly nose in the people’s business.
Businessmen and developers Milton McGregor and Ronnie Gilley face prison, charged with bribery and attempting to buy votes for pro-gambling legislation. If convicted, Gilley could be looking at 21-27 years in prison. McGregor is described as a “71-year-old grandfather who’s never been arrested for so much as jaywalking.”
All over bingo, a game people play in church and nursing homes.
The real megalomaniac culprit behind this infringement is former Alabama Gov. Bob Riley. Gilley had employed some 1500 people at Country Crossing, mega-entertainment complex in southern Dothan. An $87 million business venture, Country Crossing boasted the largest country line dancing floor in the region, theme restaurants, bed and breakfast, RV Park, and amphitheatre to draw concerts from country music talent such as Brooks & Dunn, Lorrie Morgan and “American Idol” Kellie Pickler.
But because their main bread and butter came from the 1700 electronic bingo machines, Riley shut Country Crossing down after two months. This was clear grandstanding in his grossly hypocritical crusade against what he calls illegal gambling. Even former Alabama Attorney General Troy King took issue with Riley’s conduct and criticized Riley for “creating a constitutional crisis.” The elephant in the court room is Riley’s severe conflict of interest, and his campaign receiving millions from the Choctaw Indians, running casinos in Mississippi. Apparently, Indian gambling enterprises are exempt from this persecution as long as they contribute to the right coffers.
Gilley had a permit issued by Houston County specifically for the bingo machines, assured the revenue would be taxed, regulated and benefit the state. They met Alabama Supreme Court’s six-point scale for legitimacy. Yet Riley rebuffed Gilley’s numerous, respectful invitations to come to Country Crossing and see what it’s all about. He also formed his task force months after discovering Gilley’s plans.
The combination of government incompetence, waste, petulance and laziness are utterly disgusting. Why did Riley let Gilley get so far with the project only to shut the whole thing down? Yes, bribery is wrong; but it’s hard to blame Gilley for getting desperate and wanting to protect his investments and investors. It’s a travesty that this husband and father of four has already spent three months in jail, despite no indictment. Gilley fell prey to Riley’s criminal intimidation tactics, which tragically broke him.
This also begs a question hugely relevant to Riley’s duplicity as he applies gambling legality: what’s the difference between a bribe and a campaign contribution?
Riley sold out his own state and the people he was elected to serve, to protect the Mississippi Indians’ monopoly over organized gambling. It’s unfortunate the impeachment efforts against him were unsuccessful. He put at least 1500 people out of work; he deserved to lose his job in turn.
When asked to address concerns that gambling would bring crime, Gilley’s common sense response was that joblessness brings crime.
If Alabama citizens want to play electronic bingo, they can easily go to Mississippi to do it. It makes much more sense to keep the revenue in Alabama, second in the nation for growing unemployment. According to Gilley, 9000 Alabama residents go to Mississippi and collectively spend $35,000 at those casinos every day, 24/7/365. For those who object to gambling on the basis of moral or social ills, an Alabaman could lose everything in Mississippi. Yet the repercussions (bankruptcy, foreclosure, etc…) would still fall on Alabama. Alabama would inherit the wind, but never the windfall.
After paying utilities, the money from bingo at Country Crossing was set to go to repairing roads and making other city upgrades. In terms of benefit to the state, this was going be akin to Georgia’s lottery funding the HOPE scholarship. Like the jobs and infrastructure improvements, that tax revenue is desperately needed in Dothan.
Yet despite these obstacles and the deep budget cuts Alabama faces, Riley saw fit to have 140 state troopers go to Country Crossing and shut it down, incidentally with no warrant or court order. The troopers were getting paid overtime; some speculate this one raid (of many) cost Alabama taxpayers half a million dollars. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
The last burden Alabama taxpayers need after last month’s tornado wrought its damage is the cost of continuing to prosecute, and possibly imprison, businessmen; especially those just trying to meet clear consumer demand, make a buck and create local revenue plus well paying jobs. Workers at Country Crossing were earning more than they ever had their whole lives. Former employee Janice Atwell, 59, was still struggling seven months after losing her “dream job” thanks to Riley’s raid. Atwell said about Country Crossing, “It was the best job I’ve had in my entire life.”
Atwell faced the uphill battle of competing for (already scarce) jobs with the rest of Dothan’s 5000 unemployed residents also looking for work. Had Riley not intervened, this gap could more than close. Gilley had planned to keep expanding Country Crossing so within five years, 6000 people would be employed there. He envisioned it as, eventually, an entertainment venue to rival Branson, Missouri.
Dothaninformation.com reports this comparison between Branson and Country Crossing, and why Country Crossing had the potential to outshine Branson:
- In the middle of nowhere
- Not served by a major highway system
- Not served by a major airport system
- No country mega-stars appearing regularly (just a lot of Tony Orlando, Wayne Newton and stars who haven’t had a hit record in 20 years)
- No transient market (no travelers passing through the area)
In spite of Branson’s short comings
- Branson has 18,000 hotel rooms fully occupied year round.
- Branson has 62,000 dinner theatre seats fully occupied year round.
- Branson was visited by 7.8 million people last year, generating 7.8 billion in revenue.
Country Crossing in Dothan facts
Compared to Branson, here’s why Country Crossing will do so well and bring economic expansion to our area.
- Located in the middle of the strongest country music market in the world
- Served by a major highway system
- Served by a major airport system
- In business with the biggest stars in the country music industry
- 65 million cars pass through the area per year
Ronnie went on to give some conservative estimated projections of jobs created, tax revenues generated and contributions to charity by Country Crossing:
- Year 1 – Two million dollars guaranteed by the developers
- Year 2 – Five to ten million dollars
- Year 1 – Five million dollars
- Year 2 – Ten million dollars
- Ongoing, stabilized tax revenue – greater than 25 million dollars
- Year 1 – 1000 jobs
- Year 2 – 2000 jobs
- Ongoing, stabilized jobs – greater than 3500 but will likely be 7500 (and this doesn’t even take into account the spinoff jobs that will be created)