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Alabama Casino Closings Mean Lost Jobs

Conservatives often claim that casinos hurt the poorest citizens the most. Nobody worries about the millionaire who drops a few hundred dollars at a game of blackjack or poker. Those who are concerned with the ills of a casino always talk about the poor hard-working man who takes his few dollars and squanders them at the slots searching for the ever-elusive jackpot. It certainly happens. But there’s another kind of wager earner whose life is affected by the casino, too. That working-class man is the casino worker, and for him, the casino is what feeds his kids and keeps the electricity running.

In Eutaw, Alabama, the governor decided to shut down an electronic bingo casino, leaving some 400 workers jobless. Wednesday night, there was a standoff all night between police and protesters angry over the loss of jobs in a country where so many are already unemployed. Ten legislators and the Democratic nominee for governor arrived to show their support, pumping up the crowd. The crowd blocked the way when troopers tried to secure the more than 800 bingo machines in the Greenetrack casino. Sixteen of the protesters were arrested for trespassing and eventually released on signature bonds of $1,000. Democratic state senator Bobby Singleton of Greensboro, one of those arrested, said “We went to jail for poor folks. We went to jail for justice.”

All this ocurred after recent events in which Republican Gov. Bob Riley and gambling task force commander John Tyson Jr. used recent rulings by the state courts to establish that the bingo machines are slot machines under Alabama law, and are therefore not allowed to operate except in Indian casinos. Over recent weeks, there have been raids of several of the state’s bingo casinos, and the threat of raids has caused others to close down. Victoryland in Macon County, which boasts over 6,000 machines, is the lone casino left operating at this point. The gambling task force is looking for a court order to raid Victoryland and eliminate the casino.

While some have claimed that the action is racist in nature, because many of those who are losing their jobs are African American, it seems clear that the issue is not one of race, but of anti-gambling bias. Greenetrack CEO Luther Winn was one of the protestors arrested. He was quoted as saying “I’m devastated for the 400 employees of Greenetrack who don’t have a job now.”

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