POLITICS: Long Shot

Now that the Tigers are out of the way, will the dice roll for a Pyramid casino?

| March 24, 2004
LONG SHOT Don’t bet on the prospect of ultimate success, but in the wake of Monday’s vote by the Shelby County Commission to let the University of Memphis Tigers out of their lease at The Pyramid, Commissioner John Willingham is renewing his efforts on behalf of casino gambling at that downtown facility.

And Willingham, who expects some help this week from his commission mates at a specially called Wednesday meeting, already has some in Nashville, where two “captioned” bills (i.e., legislation whose purpose is specified but whose details have yet to be filled in) have already been introduced to that end.

Shelby County legislators pushing the bills -- one of which would begin a constitutional-amendment process to legalize casino gambling in Tennessee, the other of which would authorize “lotteries” (not to be confused with the existing state lottery) and games of “skill” in Shelby County -- are Larry Miller in the state House of Representatives and John Ford in the state Senate.

Governor Phil Bredesen had previously been thought unalterably opposed to such legislation, but relented on that stand last week in Memphis, where, along with state Senator Steve Cohen, he presided over a ceremony bestowing Hope Scholarships, paid for by the new state lottery, to the first crop of local students to qualify for them.

While still professing to be “not at all sure” that gambling would be a solution to the financial predicament of Memphis and Shelby County, Bredesen said he would be prepared to listen to the opinions of “government and business and community leaders.”

The commission’s proposed action in approving the bills this week would be a partial compliance with the governor’s statement.

Willingham thought he had the votes to put the commission on record behind the legislation on Monday, but a vote at the body’s regular meeting was delayed by the technicality that a formal vote had not been taken in committee to add the proposition onto Monday’s agenda.

That was a point made during the regular session by Commissioner Marilyn Loeffel, a declared opponent of casino gambling, and her view was upheld by county attorney Brian Kuhn.

Regardless of whatever show of support the commission or other local sources might provide to the bills, many observers believe they have little to no chance of passage. Said Senator Cohen, who labored for 16 years to get a state lottery approved through the amendment process: “That’s about as likely to happen as [the Rev.] Adrian Rogers is to enter Platinum Plus.” (Rogers is a prominent local Baptist minister, and Platinum Plus a well-known topless club.)

  • AT LEAST ONE MEMBER OF THE GERMANTOWN DEMOCRATIC CLUB thought last week’s column dealt too kindly with 9th District U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr., who seemed clearly further to the right than most of those gathered to hear him, and , among other things, exonerated President Bush from lying about the presence of WMDs in Iraq and advised members to put aside their conviction that Florida’s electoral votes were “stolen” by the Republicans in the 2000 presidential election.

    At one point, asked about campaign finance, Ford told the members, “You wouldn’t believe how many of my good Republican friends will contribute when I ask them.”

    Said the member, who asked not to be identified, in an email: “I thought the GT Club was a bit hostile to Jr. .. he sure as the devil became agitated with us .. did we attend the same meeting? Of course we are going to be polite .. that is what my generation was taught when we were young .. but he had some pretty hostile and adversarial questions thrown at him by our members and I had the impression that many of our members were not pleased with his thoughts.”

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