The Poarch Band of Creek Indians (PCI) aren’t giving up on a proposal to build a casino in northeast Alabama despite the surprising defeat that week of Sen. Del Marsh’s bill that would have allowed voters to decide whether to expand gaming in the state.
Wind Creek Hospitality VP of Business Development Arthur Mothershed told The Times-Journal that PCI — the only federally recognized tribe in Alabama — are looking into whether other options remain for bringing it up for consideration again before the scheduled May 30 adjournment. The Senate voted 19-13 in favor of Marsh’s bill, two votes shy of the 21 needed. Lottery and gambling bills require a constitutional amendment, which needs approval by three-fifths of senators and representatives before going on the November 2022 ballot.
“We thought [the bill] would go through,” he said. “We are now working a different avenue to get it reconsidered.”
A 1999 referendum on a constitutional amendment for Alabama to create a state lottery and to earmark the resulting revenue for use in education failed 54% to 46%.
Mothershed said that for the past seven years, PCI has “put out feelers” on multiple parcels of land in DeKalb and Jackson counties where a resort could someday be constructed. He said they find northeast Alabama very attractive because of its proximity to Chattanooga, where a lottery exists but casinos can’t operate. It’s likely that a site would be located beside a four-lane interstate like I-59 or US- 72 with infrastructure being a priority.
He estimated that if the tribe was given approval to build it, a local casino would employ about 2,500 people during the construction phase and generate another 2,000 jobs operating the gaming, hotels, restaurants and facilities. Mothershed said a shortage of existing hotels in the area would likely prompt them to build between 500 and 1,000 new luxury hotel rooms to accommodate guests. He invited local economic development and tourism officials to visit the Wind Creek Hospitality properties to get a sense of what could be.
PCI’s existing Alabama properties boast thousands of games, AAA Four Diamond luxury resorts, world-class spas, gourmet culinary studios, outdoor amphitheaters, infinity pools, movie theatres, RV parks and fine dining restaurants.
“It would be more than just a casino,” Mothershed said. “We are talking about a destination resort, hotel and entertainment complex. Combined with the natural beauty of the area, that could be a prime tourism attraction in the state.”
The bill voted down by the Senate also would have established an Alabama Education Lottery Corporation and generated an estimated $500 million for funding state programs.
Mothershed addressed concerns that some people might have about a casino potentially attracting organized crime or harming compulsive gamblers. PCI finances the Alabama Council on Compulsive Gambling and enforces a ban from all of its properties whenever someone preemptively requests they be prohibited from entering or should a problem arise.
“It’s very important to us that we operate a safe place where guests can feel comfortable and have a good time,” he said. “Wind Creek Hospitality is committed to addressing problem gambling so this behavior does not harm our guests, our employees or the community. It’s also very important that we follow through on the payouts we offer.”
Mothershed said PCI is currently regulated by the National Indian Gaming Commission, so it would have fallen under the jurisdiction two regulatory bodies to enforce compliance with state laws, such as proper licensing and fee payment, if the legislation had passed.
“These resorts fall under the most stringent regulations that exist because of the whole image of Vegas casinos being associated with organized crime in the minds of the public. We are highly regulated across multiple jurisdictions and take it very seriously because any infraction in one could cost us our license in others. Once you complete the paperwork to operate, they know everything they could possibly know about you,” Mothershed said.
PCI emphasizes transparency and safety in its marketing.
“Not only does the tribe not want to bring crime to an area, we actually partner with local law enforcement agencies to reduce crime,” Mothershed said. “If we don’t think conditions are safe, we don’t open. We closed even before the governor ordered places closed so we guaranteed everyone’s safety. We stayed closed for months but continued to pay all of our employees during that time.”
He encouraged those who support a casino to contact their local lawmakers and tell them that they “want nice destination resorts built so people will come to Alabama and spend their money. Make your opinion known to them.”