ATMORE, Ala. – In Alabama, a state whose constitution forbids gambling, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians officially opened the Wind Creek Casino and Hotel in January. The facility is a 225,000-square-foot, 17-story glass structure on a 35-acre site, with a 57,000-square-foot gaming floor and approximately 1,600 gaming machines.
The casino creates an interesting presence in a state with two sides that share drastically different opinions on the value of an entity that embraces gaming.
Gov. Bob Riley opposes legal gaming as do conservative religious groups because of the stereotypical issues surrounding casinos such as organized crime, gambling addiction and corruption.
However, the benefits offered by the Wind Creek Casino and Hotel to surrounding communities leaves room for some to ponder the value of such an operation to residents.
Buford Rolin, chair to the PCBI, said the hotel has provided 700 new jobs, with many management positions drawing salaries ranging from $35,000 to $100,000 annually.
Overall, the PCBI provides more than 1,300 jobs to residents in local counties, 90 percent of which are held by non-tribal members. The tribe is the largest employer in Escambia County.
Alabama’s State Constitution
Before the opening of Wind Creek, the PCBI’s annual payroll was near $50 million, with the combination of income from three operational casinos, the annual payroll will exceed $100 million.
The other casinos in operation by the tribe are the Tallapoosa Center in Montgomery and the Riverside Casino in Wetumpka. The economic success of all three facilities is evident with rewards available or paid to tribal members.
Every tribal member can receive up to $30,000 to obtain a high school diploma or a degree. Tribal members also receive compensation on birthdays and elders receive monthly assistance. The PCBI also provides a comprehensive amount of community services including a volunteer fire department, police department, a health center, education programs, health services, a house authority and various educational programs.
Even in the midst of economic success that has been demonstrated by the tribe, Riley remains vociferously opposed to gaming in the state.
In a recent release regarding the introduction of a gaming bill in the legislature that would allow electronic bingo in the state of Alabama, Riley did not mince words.
“If supporters of this bill really believe gambling is so good for Alabama, then why does their bill say it will restrict gambling? It’s because deep down they know the truth; gambling might make casino operators into multi-millionaires, but it hurts people, families and our communities. It brings with it more misery, more crime and more corruption. Alabamians know this and that’s why every time all the people have had a chance to vote on gambling, they’ve rejected it.
“We will spend more than $12 billion in state and federal money on education in Alabama this year. This proposal would bring in less than one percent of that amount. For less than one percent, I don’t believe we should allow more crime, misery and corruption into Alabama.”
However, even with Riley’s dissention toward gaming, for the most part, the PCBI has not encountered any problems with gaming practices.
“We don’t have any problems with the state toward Wind Creek Casino because it sits on reservation land,” Rolin said. “The federal government gives us that authority. In regards to gaming within the state, we certainly have that right.”
In terms of stopping gaming practices in Alabama, the only individuals that have felt the effects from Riley have been the unauthorized “Mom and Pop” storefronts outside the reservation. “Riley’s task force shut those down,” Rolin said.
Rolin said there have not been any confrontations between the state and PCBI in terms of gaming practices, but he wishes the casino could offer Class III gaming.
“We had a meeting with our first district congressional representative and the governor. The governor made it very clear that there was no way he would support what he called ‘gambling.’ You have to have a compact with the state to institute Class III, and the only one that can sign that is the governor.”
In terms of Riley ever signing a compact, Rolin is realistic. He does not see it happening anytime soon.
In terms of any grey area between what is considered Class II and Class III gaming, Rolin said his casino has not come across any problems. “We’ve had no issues at all.”