Not all bets are off
Trying to make sense of gambling here in the Heart of Dixie is enough to make your head spin. We failed to pass a lottery, but we take our chances on them in other states, and buy chances for drawings for any number of worthy causes while at home, not to mention office pools on ball games.

Last week a federal judge began handing down sentences for people who pleaded guilty to charges of trying to buy legislative votes on gambling issues, but federal prosecutors failed to get convictions on any of the defendants who pleaded not guilty.

Recommendations for lenient sentencing were made, in part, because two of those who pleaded guilty — Ronnie Gilley and Jarrod Massey — were credited with cooperating in a state corruption investigation in secret grand jury testimony.

But before that news had time to get cold, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians announced plans to build a $246 million, 20-story hotel and casino next to the Riverside Casino in Wetumpka, one similar to its Wind Creek Casino and Hotel in Atmore.

We seem to be of two minds about gambling, with a legislature that has found ways to legalize some types of gambling in some parts of the state — our history of dog racing, horse racing and bingo come to mind — while keeping it out of others.

State Attorney General Luther Strange has former federal prosecutor Matt Hart working for him in the latest case. Given that Gilley and Massey have testified before the grand jury, and Hart’s background in public corruption cases, it’s reasonable to expect another trial somehow related to a gambling operation in the state.

Hart’s track record in Alabama has been impressive, with federal convictions over former two-year college chancellor Roy Johnson, former state Rep. Sue Schmitz of Toney, former state senator E.B. McLain, and former Birmingham mayor Larry Langford.

In the federal trial on gambling corruption charges, prosecutors failed to prove any of the defendants were guilty of any of the charges. They spent millions of dollars on the case, damaged reputations and careers, and forced the defendants to spend time and resources defending themselves. All they proved was that people make campaign contributions to candidates they agree with.

Let’s hope Strange does a better job of deciding when he has a case worth prosecuting.

© 2012