Tri-City Ledger -

By Joe Thomas
Ledger Editor 

Get the facts right before speaking


October 31, 2019

My mother called me Sunday about a newspaper ad in the Tuscaloosa News from the Poarch Band of Creek Indians setting the 'record straight' about a group that has started a campaign against Poarch's monopoly on gaming in the state and not paying taxes.

I later read the ad in the Mobile Press-Register. Maybe I've had my head in the sand, but I didn't know there was a 'group' now going after Poarch.

Before I had a chance to read Steve Flowers' weekly column which appears at the bottom of this page every week I had another publisher call me and ask if I had read it and wondered if I would print it.

I came back to the office and read Flowers' column. I disagreed with it, but it's his opinion and I give him the right to state his opinions every week in the Tri-City Ledger.

I like reading Flowers' columns because many are very insightful. We don't always agree, but that's fine as well. I remember him writing that Doug Jones had no chance of getting elected to the U.S. Senate as a Democrat in Republican-rich Alabama. I wrote a column saying I thought Jones would win – and guess what?

Apparently this 'group' that's upset with Poarch making 'billions' of dollars on their gaming monopoly and not paying any taxes is headed up by former State Sen. Gerald Dial who spent about 40 years in Montgomery before retiring in 2018. According to Flowers Dial talks about the billions of dollars Poarch spends outside the state to purchase and renovate other casinos.

“They make billions upon billions in this state and pay zero in taxes,” Flowers quotes Dial as saying.

Dial said the $1.5 billion investment Poarch is making in the Pennsylvania casino is from untaxed money made in Alabama. He also said in Pennsylvania, the casino will be taxed at 16 percent for onsite gaming and 54 percent for online profits.

In an era of fake news, I'd like to point out to point that while Poarch may not pay taxes on their gaming revenues, they pay taxes. Dial's statement that Poarch doesn't pay taxes is simply false.

I did some checking at the courthouse and found out that the Poarch Band of Creek Indians in Atmore pay almost $600,000 per year in property taxes on lands outside of its trust property. Under a 1995 agreement approved by the county commission, Poarch pays about $20,000 a year in lieu of taxes on houses scattered across the county under the ownership of the Poarch Creek Housing Authority.

Poarch pays sales taxes on goods sold on properties that are not in trust, but that information is not public record and I couldn't get anybody at Poarch to tell me how much sales tax they pay in Escambia County. All vehicles are taxed when tagged at the Escambia County Courthouse.

To say Poarch pays no taxes is simply false.

Should Poarch be taxed like everybody else in Escambia County and across the state of Alabama? That's a decision for the U.S. Supreme Court to decide.

It centers around the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act that granted trust lands to federally recognized tribes at the time. Poarch was not federally recognized until Aug. 11, 1984. A case called Carcieri vs. Salazar decided in 2009 over the Narragansett Tribe in Rhode Island said the tribe could not take any more land into trust because it wasn't federally recognized until 1983 – long after the 1934 deadline set by the Indian Reorganization Act.

I do know for a fact that Poarch has tried to reach out to the state for a compact on its gambling that would pump tax dollars into the state coffers. Such a compact would likely expand those gaming operations past those so-called bingo slot machines.

Former Tribal Chairman Eddie Tullis once approached the Escambia County Commission offering a piece of the pie for a simple resolution supporting the tribe's gaming. The commission said no.

In Flowers' column he says “states like Alabama should not allow them to have a monopoly”. But that's exactly was the state has done by shutting down other gaming operations and not reaching an agreement with Poarch. My bet is Pennsylvania has such a compact concerning its Indian gaming operations.

Don't blame Poarch for playing by the rules before them at this time. I doubt anybody reading this would pay taxes they are not legally required to pay and right now Poarch is not required to pay taxes on its gaming operations.

We live in a conservative state that is surrounded by lotteries and gaming, but we don't want to go there. We have a prison crisis that will cost millions and millions of dollars; we have many rural hospitals living on life support because we haven't expanded Medicaid; we continue to take law enforcement officers off the street because the Legislature says we don't have enough money when we have a cash cow living in our neighborhood.

People like Dial complain that Poarch is sending billions out of state but he had an opportunity to address that issue many times while serving in the House and Senate in Montgomery but he didn't.

Whether we ever enter into an agreement with Poarch to get a piece of that gambling pie is a big unknown.

But if people are going to attack Poarch they need to attack them with facts and not the fake news propaganda they are putting out.


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