A former local state legislator who supported the creation of the Victoryland dog track in Macon County is questioning the process in which Center Stage Bingo awards charitable contributions.
Nathan Mathis purchased an advertisement in Sunday’s Eagle which includes a letter to the editor and a column from late Dothan attorney Michael J. Gamble. In his letter, Mathis said the Eagle’s July 23 article detailing bingo contributions from the Houston Economic Development Association, which operates Center Stage, indicates $400,000 really stays in HEDA’s control.
That figure reflects the amount HEDA awarded to the Wiregrass-Houston County Foundation, a 501(c)3 nonprofit HEDA established to ensure charitable giving endures well into the future, HEDA attorney Ernie Hornsby told the Eagle in October 2018. By state law, bingo proceeds must serve a charitable purpose.
“For bingo to be allowed in Houston County and it to be legal, 100 percent of the profits must go to charity,” Mathis said in the letter. “Without a profit and loss statement and a review by a CPA (certified public accountant), no one knows how much money is being made.”
In an interview Friday, Mathis – who indicated he is “not opposed” to Center Stage’s operations – said he penned the letter in order to support “good, honest, open government.”
“Why don’t they just (operate) above board?” he said. “Why not give that $400,000 directly to charity?”
Mathis also questioned the Houston County Commission’s oversight of bingo operations in the letter. Last year’s settlement of a lawsuit between Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, HEDA, and the commission legitimized the county’s bingo oversight procedures, commission chairman Mark Culver said Friday.
The county added a requirement that HEDA file a yearly charitable contributions report when it renewed HEDA’s bingo permit in October 2018, Culver also noted. The Eagle cited that report in its July 23 article.
At the time of the permit’s renewal, some county leaders expressed a desire to place a representative on the Wiregrass-Houston County Foundation to provide more oversight. Without a movement to change the permit as it currently stands, that placement cannot happen until the next permit renewal in 2033, Culver said.