Jackson County Times

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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Stars Assemble for Country Crossing Opening

By Bo McMullian

All questions about the legality and the morality of electronic bingo games were forgotten, or at least put aside, for a day on Tuesday as country music stars George Jones, Randy Owens, John Anderson and Lorrie Morgan joined in with Houston County and Dothan city officials to help owner Ronnie Gilley open Country Crossing, located just north of the Florida border on U.S. 231.

Recent action by the Alabama Supreme Court allowed for the opening which was attended by dozens of media representatives, crowds of employees including heavy security and hundreds of wild-eyed bingo players who stormed through the doors at 3 p.m. to the cries of the announcer, “Are you ready to play Bingo!?”

There are hundreds of electronic machines inside the “Bingo Pavilion” and the layout has the look and feel of a Las Vegas casino. But it’s not a casino. And the machines are not slots. Players can only play bingo but in an endless variety of ways. The machines only look like slots. Slots are still illegal in Alabama; these machines aren’t--for now. Gov. Bob Riley has vowed to fight on against electronic bingo and a public referendum is anticipated sometime next year.

But one certainly doesn’t have to play Bingo when visiting Country Crossing. Country music star Kelly Pickler is scheduled for a concert on Dec. 12. John Anderson, who plays “Seminole Wind,” has lent, or invested, his name to a cafe and saloon serving alcohol. Singer Lorrie Morgan added her name to a chicken restaurant. They, and George Jones, are expected to appear in concert frequently.

Tuesday afternoon, a “press conference” was scheduled for the media but public relations director Doug Rainer announced there would be “no questions today. This is a happy day for Country Crossing.” The media was treated instead to speeches with soaring rhetoric lauding the day and events with reverence--including a prayer of thanks, with all heads bowed to God.

Dothan Mayor Mike Schmitt presented a framed resolution from the city to Gilley in appreciation for his work. Randy Owens and George Jones harmonized on a few verses of “My Home’s in Alabama (Southern Born and Southern Bred).”

Gilley thanked the members of the Houston County Commission for “ignoring nonsense in favor of common sense.” Gilley and Owens envisioned a country music theme park that would some day rival Branson, Mo. “The development will help save the local economy and make the area famous,” they said.

“There are 1,800 people working here today,” Gilley said, “and this is just the beginning. In the next five years, there will be 6,000 people working here. This will be an entertainment dynasty right here in Houston County!”

At the no-question press conference, (which met with no complaints from the subdued Southeast Alabama media-- no one even tried to ask a question) the legality controversy was not only downplayed, it wasn’t even mentioned. All the speakers talked about, for 90 minutes, was music, entertainment and JOBS.

“This is all about jobs,” Owens said. “We’re at 10 percent unemployment. This has been a dream for me, this Country Crossing. I’m extremely proud today. Do you realize how many tourists will be coming here? This is going to be ‘country music destination USA’. It’s about country music. It’s about putting food on the table.”

It is estimated that $70 million has been invested in the development which spans 375 acres, according to a report published in the Dothan Eagle. That report estimated the number of electronic bingo machines on the site to be 1,703. Homes and businesses were being built and roads were being paved Tuesday by workers sloshing through the rain.

The TIMES talked with a few bingo players while they were waiting in line. Doug Wilson, 49, drove in from Tallahassee. He said he loves the machines and doesn’t consider them gambling. “I consider them entertainment,” he said. “I’m here to have fun.” Linda from Troy and Sheila from Dothan agreed. “It’s a lot more fun than playing LOTTO in Florida,” said Linda.

1 comment:

  1. Alabama unemployment is improving, but conditions vary throughout the state according to this heat map: