Electronic bingo not on tourism conference agenda

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Tourism officials from twelve states are in Montgomery for a 3-day conference to find ways to improve tourism in their respective state, but when it comes to attracting tourists to Alabama electronic bingo is not on the table.

"It's not part of the governor's plan so we think the state is doing well as a family destination," said Alabama Tourism Director Lee Sentell.

Country music stars also believe Alabama is a family destination, but singer Marty Stuart and others believe electronic bingo would be a big draw for the Country Crossing development in Houston County.

"It piqued my interest. I'm from Philadelphia, Mississippi, and I saw how gambling energized that southern town," said Stuart.

Country Crossing developer Ronnie Gilley says electronic bingo wasn't any part of the original plans for Country Crossing but he's convinced it would be the catalyst that would help create something extraordinary. Country Crossing, he says, could become another 'Branson, Missouri.'

"We looked at Branson. It's in the middle of nowhere and last year 7.8 million visitors stopped by," said Gilley.

A bill in the legislature would limit the expansion of bingo operations to what's out there now, but more importantly it would tax those casinos at rates up to 20%. Gilley is pulling out all the stops, promoting the idea with a commercial feature Stuart, George Jones and Lorrie Morgan to name a few. One estimate has the state collecting as much as $200 million a year in taxes.

But back at the tourism conference in downtown Montgomery, Sentell isn't buying it.

"I think some states have expanded and have been disappointed with the results. There is so much we don't know about," said Sentell.