Poarch tribe not giving up on a casino for northeast Alabama

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 this week of Sen. Del Marsh’s bill that would have allowed voters to decide whether to establish a statewide education lottery, five new casinos and commissions to oversee them.

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.”

Mothershed said PCI has “put out feelers” on multiple parcels of land in DeKalb and Jackson counties where a resort could 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 alongside a four-lane interstate like I-59 or US- 72.

He estimated a local casino could 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.

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 theaters, 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. Four of the casinos would have been located at the existing greyhound tracks in Alabama and two additional casinos were also proposed in Houston and Lowndes counties.

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 Tribal and National Indian gaming commissions, 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 in the minds of the public. We are highly regulated across multiple jurisdictions and take it very seriously because any infraction at one operation could cost us our license in others. Once you fill out the paperwork to operate, regulators learn everything they could possibly know about you,” Mothershed said.

PCI’s marketing messaging emphasizes transparency and safety.

“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.

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.”

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