MONTGOMERY, AL -- The Alabama House of Representatives will delay voting on a controversial bingo legalization and referendum bill until April 21 at the earliest. That's the next-to-last day of the current legislative session.
A supermajority of 63 votes out of the House's 105 members is required for SB 380 to become law. News reports claimed the measure was 10 votes short of the requirement as of mid-April. Observers said the House vote is expected to be close, but supporters said the delay affords them more time to lobby for the measure.
The bill passed the state Senate by a narrow margin in late March. According to some polls, 80% of Alabama's citizens support the bingo bill.
If passed into law, the bill would temporarily legalize electronic bingo until voters could approve or disapprove a pro-bingo constitutional amendment by referendum on Nov. 1. An article in BusinessWeek said if the bill is passed by the state Legislature, Gov. Bob Riley, a fierce bingo opponent, couldn't veto it.
While state lawmakers engage in political horse- trading, FBI agents are secretly taping some of their conversations as part of a federal corruption investigation. The U.S. Department of Justice said last week it had clear and compelling evidence that some state senators had exchanged votes for cash. At least two "political insiders" are walking around the state capitol building wearing hidden recording devices, according to the local CBS TV news organization.
At the same time, state Attorney General Troy King said the governor had thrown Alabama into "a constitutional crisis" by telling him to stop interfering with the Governor's Task Force on Illegal Gambling. In a surprise move last month, King took over the organization, saying he would end its practice of pre- dawn raids by armed state troopers and delay any enforcement action on electronic bingo until the state Supreme Court issues a clear ruling on the status of the machines.