Proposed Ala. law targets illegal casinos

An interfaith moral-concerns group that includes Alabama Baptists is calling on the state legislature to crack down on illegal gambling joints that are cropping up around the state.

By Bob Allen

A Baptist minister who leads an interdenominational ministry that self-describes as “Alabama’s moral compass” is urging voters to support legislation to deter illegal casinos from popping up across the state.

State Sen. Bryan Taylor (R-Prattville) introduced legislation April 16 to enhance penalties for promoting gambling, conspiring to promote gambling or possessing a gambling device. Currently those crimes are a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to $6,000 in fines and a year in jail.

In cases where the defendant profits from gambling by more than $10,000, Taylor’s law would up the crime to a Class C felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and ranked alongside offenses including involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault and theft of more than $500 but less than $2,500.

joe godfreyJoe Godfrey, executive director of Alabama Citizens Action Program, urged Alabamians to talk to their legislators about SB 446.

“It’s urgent,” Godfrey told the Alabama Baptist. “We’ve got to get this taken care of. Otherwise we are going to continue to have these bingo halls opening up.”

Godfrey, a former Alabama Baptist pastor, has led ACAP since 2008. Formed in 1937 by Baptists, Methodists and Presbyterians as an interfaith temperance program, today the agency addresses an array of moral concerns including alcohol, tobacco, drug abuse, pornography and the sanctity of human life.

Godfrey said in a legislative update that if enacted, Taylor's bill “will stop illegal casinos from popping up in our neighborhoods, near our churches, schools and throughout the state.”

“These gambling establishments and machine manufacturers continue to set up operations even though they know they will be shut down because the penalty is so small,” Godfrey said. “They consider the relatively small fine associated with a misdemeanor to be the ‘cost of doing business,’ while they steal millions of dollars from the pockets of individuals who do not realize that the house always wins."

Godfrey called on Alabamians to "flood" the phone lines, e-mail and mailboxes of state senators, urging them to vote cloture on a possible filibuster and then for passage of the bill.

“The breaking of at least four of the Ten Commandments [is] involved in gambling,” Godfrey wrote. “And given the addictive nature of gambling, especially in the area of electronic slot machines, the Bible clearly teaches that we should not put a stumbling block in the path of others.”

-- Jennifer Davis Rash contributed to this story.