Every time Alabama’s government dips its toe in the murky waters of legalized gambling, we see a flood of destructive corrupting influence follow. For those who doubt my thesis or who are too young to remember this history, consider the following four examples.

1954: An attorney general nominee is assassinated in Phenix City 

A forgotten statue rises from the Alabama capitol’s southeast lawn honoring the sacrifice of Albert L. Patterson. If there was ever a martyr for opposing gambling’s corrupting influence, it was this man.

In the early 1950s, local government officials in Phenix City, Ala., turned a blind eye to illegal gambling within the city. Think of the revenue and development that would be generated from it, they reasoned. Instead of revenue and development, the “legalized” gambling that Phenix City officials welcomed brought a plague of corruption and destruction.

In 1954, Patterson won the Democratic nomination for Alabama’s Attorney General, running on a platform of reigning in the crime and corruption spawned by gambling interests in Phenix City. “I have only a 100-to-1 chance of ever being sworn in as attorney general,” he said, acknowledging the hostility he would face.

On June 18, 1954, Patterson was “rewarded” for his courageous stand when an assailant fired three shots into his face as he walked the short distance to his car from his downtown Phenix City law office. He died minutes later.

The chief deputy sheriff was later convicted of Patterson’s murder. While the state’s sitting attorney general was indicted, no prosecution followed after he was admitted to an insane asylum.

But Patterson’s assassination galvanized public opinion against Phenix City corruption. To clean up the mess, martial law was declared, the National Guard brought in, outside prosecutors empowered, and 734 indictments were handed down against local officials and businessmen with ties to organized crime. It took decades for Phenix City to recover. Unfortunately, “The Phenix City Story” is the sad tale of what happens when government crawls into bed with gambling interests.

2006: A governor is sent to prison 

Many remember former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman serving a federal prison term on a bribery conviction; few recall the link to gambling.

In exchange for a $500,000 “contribution” to Siegelman’s “Education Lottery Foundation,” Siegelman promised Richard Scrushy, a wealthy healthcare administrator, a place on the state’s powerful “certificate of need” board. Here is a description of the facts from United States v. Siegelman (2011):

[Mike Martin] testified that Scrushy told him that to ‘have some influence or a spot on the CON Board,’ they had to help Siegelman raise money for the lottery campaign. Scrushy said that if they did so, ‘[they] would be assured a seat on the CON Board.’ Martin testified, ‘[W]e were making a contribution . . . in exchange for a spot on the CON Board.’

Could Scrushy have bribed Siegelman in some way unconnected to the promotion of Siegelman’s lottery? Of course. But the connection to gambling seems far from coincidental. When the door is cracked open “just a wee bit” for gambling interests to enter, corruption jams its jack-booted foot in the gap and is soon “calling the shots,” controlling the state. Claims that legalized gambling will somehow foster “liberty” ring hollow to me.

2010: Two lobbyists plead guilty to bribing multiple legislators to support gambling  

Lobbyists Jarrod Massey and Jennifer Pouncy pled guilty to bribing several Alabama Legislators to support gambling legislation. The breadth of the bribery scandal and the amount of money involved is nothing less than breathtaking. Here is a description of their admissions as recorded on the U.S. Department of Justice’s website

Massey admitted, among other things, that he offered former State Senator James E. Preuitt $1 million and that he authorized former employee and lobbyist Jennifer Pouncy to offer Preuitt substantial assistance in his reelection campaign, including telling Pouncy that they had up to $2 million of Gilley’s money to use in obtaining Preuitt’s vote on the pro-gambling legislation. Pouncy pleaded guilty on Sept. 28, 2010, for her role in the bribery scheme, and is scheduled to be sentenced on Aug. 11, 2011. In her guilty plea, Pouncy admitted to offering $2 million to Preuitt in exchange for his favorable vote on the pro-gambling legislation. Massey also admitted that he and others discussed purchasing a large number of vehicles from Preuitt’s auto dealership in exchange for Preuitt’s vote.

Massey also admitted that he conspired with others to bribe a member of the Alabama House of Representatives during the 2009 legislative session, promising hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign support in exchange for the legislator’s favorable vote on pro-gambling legislation. Similarly, Massey admitted that in 2010, he and his co-conspirators sought to bribe a member of the Alabama Senate, offering the legislator $1 million per year, to use at the legislator’s discretion. Massey admitted that the illegal monies were to be disguised as payment for work on a public relations job.

The description goes on to show how several other State Representatives and Senators were involved in this bribery scheme, all in an attempt to gain votes in favor of pro-gambling legislation. 

2012:  A legislative aide dies on the eve of a gambling corruption federal trial  

Just a little over a decade ago, federal corruption charges were brought in Montgomery related to legal gambling interests. The headliner, Milton McGregor, then-owner of the casino “Victoryland” in Shorter, Ala., was acquitted.

But not everyone got off so easy. Ray Crosby, an attorney and state employee drafting bills for the Alabama Legislature, was also named a defendant. Crosby was charged with taking $72,000 from McGregor, in addition to his state salary, to draft bills in a way that would be favorable to gambling interests. The day before the federal jury in Montgomery was to be chosen, Crosby was found dead in his home. “Natural causes,” saith the coroner. Maybe so, but the timing of it was most unnatural.

Those who, like me, love this state and its people should oppose the gambling legislation currently under consideration in our State Legislature. We should call upon our representatives to vote “NO,” for our history says it’s a really “bad bet” for Alabama to pursue such laws.

The odds of allowing gambling without it bringing along its corruptive influence are quite low. “100-to-one,” as Albert Patterson once observed.

Bart Harmon is a Montgomery attorney and life-long Alabama resident, as are several of his children and grandchildren.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to Commentary@1819News.com.

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