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A bill to tax and regulate electronic bingo in Alabama has stalled in a legislative committee while proponents try to find the winning number of votes in the House before time runs out on the legislative session.
The House Tourism and Travel Committee met Thursday to vote on the Senate-passed bingo bill. The committee normally approves gambling bills, but the House sponsor, Rep. Marcel Black, D-Tuscumbia, asked the committee to delay consideration until next week. The committee agreed.
Black said he was negotiating with some representatives about possible changes in the bill and needed the weekend to complete those talks. He expressed optimism that those talks will produce sufficient votes in the House to pass the bill.
Opponents took the delay as a positive sign.
"The truth is they don't have the votes to pass this corrupt bill," said Bryan Taylor, policy director for Republican Gov. Bob Riley.
The bill is a constitutional amendment. If approved by the Legislature, it would let Alabama citizens vote Nov. 2 on ending court battles over whether electronic bingo is legal and would tax and regulate the thousands of games in the state. Some electronic bingo casinos have closed to prevent raids by the governor's gambling task force, but others have remained open during the legislative battle.
The Senate passed the bill March 30. After the vote, the FBI notified legislative leaders that they were investigating whether anything had being sought or offered in return for support.
Black said he had not been contacted by the FBI and won't let the investigation interfere with his efforts to pass the bill with only four meeting days remaining in the 2010 session.
"I don't think it should stop this bill getting to the people," he said.
The bill that passed the Senate doesn't limit the number of electronic bingo casinos. That would be left to a new state gaming commission.
Black said some House members want a limit added to the bill, and he's leaning in that direction.
He said the negotiations also involve the makeup of the gaming commission and its power.
The Rev. Dan Ireland, longtime leader of the antigambling Alabama Citizen Action Program, said the delay Thursday benefits opponents because time is so short in the legislative session.
"Every day you burn you have one day's less opportunity to pass your bill," he said.
Ireland is optimistic the bill won't pass the House because the statewide referendum would be on the general election ballot with all 140 seats in the Legislature.
"I don't think a lot of people are eager to have their names and gambling legislation on the same ballot," he said.
But Black and the Senate sponsor of the bill, Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, said they remain optimistic that many legislators want to settle the legal and political battle over electronic bingo that has dominated the state for months.
"I think there will be sufficient votes to pass it," Black predicted.