5 months ago

Tax tribunal voids $75 million+ Greenetrack assessment, State of Alabama weighs appeal

Alabama Tax Tribunal Judge Jeff Patterson recently overturned a tax assessment of over $75 million by the Alabama Department of Revenue against Greenetrack, Inc.

The assessment stemmed from a March 31, 2009 audit report by Revenue examiners and covered January 2004 – December 2008.

Following the conclusion of the audit, Revenue entered a final assessment of $75,511,338.17 in unpaid sales tax and $746,292.01 in unpaid consumer’s use tax. Both amounts included interest accrued.

At Greenetrack’s facility in Greene County, there has been pari-mutuel wagering on horse and dog racing conducted over the years.

By statute, these activities are exempt from paying sales and consumer use tax.

Instead, Act 1975-376 imposed various license fees and taxes under the jurisdiction of the Greene County Racing Commission, which governs the race wagering at Greenetrack. § 16 of that act stated, “[T]he license fees, commissions, and excise taxes imposed herein shall be in lieu of all license, excise, and occupational taxes to the State of Alabama …”

However, Greenetrack has also been known to conduct bingo gaming at its facility.

Amendment 743, passed in 2003, governs the legality of bingo in Greene County, including the relevant rules concerning licensing and operation.

In its audit report, Revenue examiners essentially contended that the tax exemption created previously was only meant to cover legal racing activities at Greenetrack. Revenue also argued that Greenetrack was breaking the law when it came to how it was running bingo operations.

About the facility’s bingo operations, examiners wrote, “[I]t is evident that the nonprofit organizations have illegally entered into contracts with Greenetrack, Inc., a for-profit corporation, to operate the bingo facility. The nonprofit organizations receive only a token amount of the immense revenues generated by the bingo operation. Since the bingo operation at Greenetrack is not being operated in compliance with Amendment 743, the gross receipts derived from the bingo operation are subject to sales tax.”

“The basis for the assessment of tax due, results from an illegal operation of bingo at the Greenetrack facility. Greenetrack, Inc. owes sales tax on the total wagers derived from the bingo operation,” the audit concluded.

Greenetrack subsequently appealed this assessment, arguing it was exempt for all revenues, not just pari-mutuel wagering on racing.

Oral arguments before the Alabama Tax Tribunal were held September 20, 2018.

The opinion and final order by the tribunal judge, issued August 30, 2019, stated, “The Revenue Department argues that the legislature intended for the exemption to apply only to the Taxpayer’s dog-racing activities and not to its subsequent bingo operations.”

“The Taxpayer (Greenetrack) argues that the exemption is limited only by the words used by the legislature in § 16 and in subsequent legislative enactments,” the opinion said.

Revenue further argued, “To rule with the taxpayer would in essence state that the intent of the legislature was to allow for operations such as Greenetrack to conduct a multi-million (if not billion) dollar operation completely tax-free even if it does not serve the charitable purpose for which [the] legislature created it. Had the taxpayer felt this result was so clear under statutory law, surely it would not have waited almost 10 years through several legal proceedings before making this outlandish argument when a simple exemption argument could have put the matter to rest years ago.”

However, in the end, the judge did indeed side with Greenetrack.

“The legislature exempted the Taxpayer from the taxes at issue. Thus, the final assessments are void,” Judge Patterson ruled.

The judge also said  that “if the outcome in this appeal seems ‘outlandish,’ the remedy rests with the legislative branch that enacted the law upon which this ruling is based.”

Read the full opinion and final order here.

What’s next?

The State of Alabama has 30 days from the issuance of this tribunal final order to appeal to circuit court.

In a statement to Yellowhammer News, Department of Revenue spokesperson Amanda Collier advised, “The department is reviewing the decision and evaluating options.”

Yellowhammer News was informed this week that the attorney general’s office has been involved in this review and evaluation process.

This case could have significant ramifications when it comes to potentially lost tax revenues for the state.

A new radio ad playing in the Montgomery market also contends that exempting Greenetrack from sales tax but not doing the same for other non-racing bingo facilities in the same county essentially means the government is picking winners (or one winner) and losers.

It was not immediately clear who is behind this radio ad, as no disclaimer accompanies the spot.

Listen:

Bingo background:

Greenetrack, on its actively utilized Facebook page, self-identifies itself as a “casino” and “bingo hall.”

A more in-depth description identifies that “gaming machines” are being operated at the facility.

The description reads, “Searching for the best place for a fun night in Eutaw? Greenetrack Inc is a gaming complex in Eutaw, offering the best in entertainment and gaming. Come enjoy all of the different games, amenities and prizes we have to offer at our complex. You can bet on different greyhound and thoroughbred horse races, play some gaming machines or just enjoy the full bar and grill! You’ll have a wonderful time with your friends and family at Greenetrack. Race on down to our gaming complex today and start getting paid to have fun.”

Greenetrack’s Facebook cover photo appears to show examples of “gaming machines” at the facility.

(Greenetrack/Facebook)

As of 1:00 a.m. Wednesday, Greenetrack’s most recent post, made approximately one hour prior, congratulated “another lucky jackpot winner.”

Videos and other pictures posted on Greenetrack’s Facebook page detail other types of gaming conducted at the facility, including on “WhiteSands gaming machines.”

Electronic bingo operations have been ruled to be illegal in the state by the Alabama Supreme Court.

The attorney general’s office is still currently embroiled in a civil lawsuit filed in 2017 against Greenetrack and other Greene County operators allegedly conducting illegal electronic bingo activities.

Attorney General Steve Marshall has said the ultimate goal of the lawsuit, specifically relating to Greenetrack, is to shut the facility’s electronic bingo operations down permanently.

“It is the responsibility of the Attorney General to ensure that Alabama’s laws are enforced, including those laws that prohibit illegal gambling,” Marshall explained at the time of the lawsuit being filed. “Through multiple rulings in recent years, the Alabama Supreme Court has made it abundantly clear that electronic bingo and the use of slot machines are illegal in all Alabama counties.”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

4 mins ago

Auburn basketball to host ESPN’s College GameDay for first time

The basketball version of ESPN’s College GameDay is coming to Auburn for the first time ever on Saturday, February 1.

The national show is set to broadcast prior to Auburn’s upcoming top-20 matchup with Kentucky.

Host Rece Davis (an alumnus of the University of Alabama) and analysts Jay Bilas, LaPhonso Ellis and Seth Greenberg will be live from Auburn Arena, beginning at 10:00 a.m. CT on ESPN.

According to the university, this marks the first time Auburn has been featured on the show as a host or visiting team. Head coach Bruce Pearl has made four previous appearances on the show when he was coaching at Tennessee.

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The Tigers have split the last six meetings with the Wildcats, including winning two of the last three inside Auburn Arena.

Additionally, Countdown to GameDay Live will serve as the pregame show to the pregame show. Each week, ESPN’s Rece Davis, Jason Fitz and Christine Williamson will join a wide array of ESPN college basketball analysts and reporters. The show will premiere this Saturday across Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and the ESPN App.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 hours ago

Interview Day brings Alabama high schoolers together with employers

More than 250 high school seniors met with representatives from almost 30 companies at the Bessemer Civic Center for an Interview Day event designed to link those entering the workforce with those looking to hire.

The students were from 14 high schools across a six-county area (Blount, Chilton, Jefferson, Shelby, St. Clair and Walker).

Interview Day was the culmination of preparations the students made during the first semester of their senior year of school. From developing soft skills to working on resumes, the students came into the event prepared to put their best foot forward.

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Interview Day pairs Alabama high school seniors with companies from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The event was presented by Central Six AlabamaWorks and the Onin Group in cooperation with the Shelby County Chamber of Commerce58 Inc. and Central Alabama Partnership for Training and Employment.

Companies were from a wide range of industries, including automotive, distribution, construction and skills trades, health care and hospitality.

“The reason why this program is so successful is that we’re addressing a gap,” said Tiffany Bishop, regional workforce development manager with Onin Group. “We have students who are going into unemployment and then we have employers that are looking for good talent, and all we’re doing is trying to bridge the gap to help them find each other.”

The effort comes as Alabama announces it ended 2019 with record low unemployment of 2.7% in December.

“I’m so proud to be able to close out this decade with record-breaking economic measures,” said Gov. Kay Ivey. “All year long, we’ve had good news to share, and to be able to end the year, and the decade, on such a positive note is wonderful. Earlier this year, Alabama had never reported an unemployment rate lower than 3%, and now we’ve had one for the last three months! Nearly 84,000 more people have jobs now than last year. I’m excited about the path that Alabama is on, and the positive impacts this news has on our people.”

(Courtesy of Alabama News Center)

4 hours ago

Rep. Mike Rogers: Donald Trump is the ‘most pro-life president ever’

Congressman Mike Rogers (R-AL) strongly commended President Donald Trump and the thousands of pro-life Americans who gathered in Washington, D.C., on Friday for the March for Life event.

“This week marked the 47th anniversary of the disastrous Roe v. Wade decision that cast a dark pall over the soul of our nation,” Rogers said in a statement. “Every person who has gathered in Washington for the march today is joined in spirit with millions of Americans across our land who staunchly believe in the sanctity of life.”

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Rogers then went on to discuss President Trump and his strong support for a pro-life agenda:

I am especially proud President Trump will address the march and be the first sitting president to do so. President Trump is the most pro-life president ever to sit in the White House.  Last year, 58 pro-life laws were passed across the nation. It just shows how important and precious the lives of these unborn babies are to so many. Momentum is on our side. We must keep fighting

“As a Christian and the father of three beautiful children, I will always stand up for the rights of these precious lives and be a voice for them,” Rogers concluded.

The 47th annual March for Life was attended by thousands who celebrate the sanctity of life from conception to death and advocate for the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court that legalized abortion and has resulted in an estimated 60 million deaths of unborn children.

Kyle Morris also contributes daily to Breitbart News. You can follow him on Twitter 
@RealKyleMorris.

5 hours ago

UAB’s Proton International to conduct first cancer treatments at end of February

Proton therapy, a highly sophisticated radiation technology for treating cancer, has come to Alabama with the opening of Proton International at UAB. The facility opened with a ribbon-cutting Jan. 13. The center is a partnership between the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Proton International.

Proton International at UAB is one of 36 proton therapy centers in the United States and the first in Alabama.

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“With the establishment of this center, UAB Medicine has again brought one of the latest, most advanced medical technologies to our region,” said Will Ferniany, CEO of UAB Health System. “Proton therapy will be a valuable tool that our physicians and scientists in the Department of Radiation OncologySchool of Medicine and the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center can employ to the betterment of thousands of cancer patients in Alabama and the surrounding area.”

Proton therapy uses a beam of protons directed at the tumor site. The beam is configured to deliver the majority of its energy precisely at the tumor. Healthy tissue in front of the tumor receives a minimal amount of energy, and tissue behind the tumor receives little. This reduces damage to healthy tissue that is common in X-ray radiation and the cause of most side effects.

“Opening the center is an important milestone for the residents of Alabama who now have access to proton therapy closer to home,” said Chris Chandler, CEO of Proton International. “Our mission is to work in partnership with leading clinical entities, such as UAB, so patients and families do not have to travel long distances and suffer further cost and stress at such a critical time.”

UAB physicians anticipate beginning consultations with prospective patients in the next two weeks, with the first proton therapy treatments taking place at the end of February.

Proton therapy is used to treat tumors of the brain and central nervous system, spine, head and neck, lung, prostate, liver, gastrointestinal tract and colon, and some breast tumors. While it treats primarily single-site tumors, because of its focused dose capabilities in some cases it can be used for treating cancer that has spread to surrounding tissue.

“Proton therapy will allow us to treat deep-seated cancers,” said James A. Bonner, M.D., the Merle M. Salter Endowed Professor and chair of the UAB Department of Radiation Oncology. “It can be particularly efficacious in the treatment of children, who can be highly sensitive to the effects of radiation therapy. We are excited to offer this cutting-edge approach for patients and families in Birmingham, across Alabama and beyond.”

Proton International at UAB is on 20th Street South between Fourth and Fifth avenues. The facility consists of a three-story building to house clinical exam rooms, offices and the ProBeam proton therapy system, manufactured by Varian Medical Systems, a longtime partner with UAB in the delivery of radiation therapy. The medical staff, including radiation oncologists, medical physicists, dosimetrists, radiation therapy technologists and nurses, will be exclusively from UAB.

The heart of proton therapy is a machine called a cyclotron, which produces the proton beam and delivers it to the precise location in the body to destroy tumor cells. Proton International at UAB’s cyclotron, nick-named Emma, was manufactured in Germany. The $25 million, 90-ton cyclotron was brought by ship to Brunswick, Georgia, then transported to UAB last March by a specialized truck, with 20 axles, 78 wheels, and drivers in front and back. A heavy-lift crane was assembled on Fourth Avenue South to lift and deposit Emma into the facility via the roof.

UAB will be involved in clinical research studies on the use of proton therapy to discover the full utility of the therapy and produce best practice parameters on its use. Click here for a more detailed explanation of how proton therapy works.

This story originally appeared on the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s UAB News website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

6 hours ago

Artificial reef teeming with life in Gulf of Mexico

An artificial reef created in the Gulf of Mexico four years ago appears to be teeming with life.

In 2016, two of Alabama Power’s retired boilers were sunk off the coast of Mobile County to improve the marine ecosystem. The giant steel structures previously used to turn steam into power have also proven to be a boon for offshore anglers.

“We put the reef down in the water that day, and it looks like you are just putting in something not useful and, now to see it flourish as a fish habitat and all the wildlife that’s there, it’s actually exciting,” said Susan Comensky, Alabama Power vice president for Environmental Affairs. “It’s a great success, and we are so grateful for what everybody brought to the table to make it a success.”

For decades, thousands of man-made objects, like old ships and concrete bridge rubble, have been sunk off the Alabama coastline. The 200,000-pound boilers were sunk from a barge donated by Cooper/T. Smith Corp., a marine transportation firm headquartered in Mobile.

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Artificial reef off Alabama coast is full of marine life from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The state’s artificial reef zone stretches almost from Florida to Mississippi and out 60 miles from shore. The result is one of the country’s best places for offshore fishing.

“We have several thousand (artificial) reefs off the coast of Alabama, and we have the biggest and best red snapper fishery in the world,” said Chris Blankenship, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources commissioner. “We have built an incredible fishery off the coast of Alabama that is really unrivaled anywhere in the Gulf of Mexico or, really, in the country.”

The reefs have been a boon for the fish and the state’s economy.

“Every weekend that the red snapper fishery is open, as well as amberjack, gray triggerfish, vermillion snapper, there are people with thousands of boats that buy gas and bait and stay in hotel rooms. All of that adds to quite a big economic impact for the coastal areas of our state,” Blankenship said.

However, it’s not just anglers that are drawn to the reefs.

“A wide range of user groups can benefit from this reef – recreational anglers, commercial anglers and any kind of eco-tourism, things like scuba divers and underwater photography,” said Craig Newton, biologist with the Alabama Marine Resources Division.

The project is an example of what can be done when people work together for a common cause, planners say.

“What it does is allows all of us to maximize our resources to accomplish great things and do so in a way that our members and the people of Alabama can benefit,” said Tim Gothard, executive director of the Alabama Wildlife Federation.

The coordinates for the reef are 29 47.544, 87 59.104.

Find out more about the Marine Resources Division by visiting its Facebook page.

(Courtesy of Alabama News Center)