Alabama Lottery and Casino Bill Stalled, But Not Dead!

Alabama Lottery and Casino Bill Stalled, But Not Dead!

The Alabama Legislature has postponed a plan to legalize a state lottery and casinos with slot machines and video poker, but not table games, at seven locations throughout the state; however, it may be voted on again in the last three days of the session.

Questioned about the prospect of another vote, Senate President Pro Tem Greg Reed stated, “I don’t know exactly what the outcome is going to be, other than the membership is working on the issue.”

This week, a conference committee suggested a compromise that would allow four dog tracks and three bingo halls to operate “electronic games of chance” and a state lotto. In addition, it would give the governor instructions to work up a compact with the Poarch Band of Creek Indian. Should legislators accept the plan, it would be put to a statewide vote on August 20.

The suggested compromise solution was passed by the House of Representatives but rejected by the Senate by a single vote. Some state senators who did not cast a vote reported feeling under pressure to either modify their mind or stick to their opposition.

In favor of a previous version of the bill, Republican Sen. Lance Bell cast a no vote on the conference committee proposal. Bell said of the concept, “You are basically giving full casinos.”

Voting against my conscience is required of me. And I have assured my folks that I would vote yes 100% of the time if this were an education lottery. Not that it is, though, Bell remarked.

Voters rejected a lottery that then-Gov. Don Siegelman had proposed in 1999, the last time Alabama held a vote on gambling. Since then, the problem has gotten politically entwined with the permitting of casinos and gaming machines and the ensuing turf conflicts over their locations. In 2016, then-Gov. Robert Bentley almost succeeded in getting a lottery approved, but identical arguments concerning electronic gambling machines prevented the proposal from passing on its last vote.

Lotteries and “any scheme in the nature of a lottery” are among the gambling-related prohibitions in the Alabama Constitution as it stands. Three-fifths of lawmakers and subsequently a majority of voters must approve any amendment to the Constitution that would permit gaming.

Republican Sen. Greg Albritton, a conference committee member who opposed the bill on the Senate floor, said he had received “hundreds and hundreds of notifications” on the measure via texts, emails, and Facebook.

Frankly, Albritton remarked, “Fifty percent of them call me other names and fifty percent of them say thank you.” But I’m sure the same emails are arriving for people who cast yes votes. The subject is contentious and intricate.

Democratic conference committee member and Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton expressed optimism that supporters can secure the necessary votes because the state will require more money when federal pandemic relief monies expire.

We need this new revenue, so I’m just hoping they can come around and get the state of Alabama what it needs,” Singleton added.

The Poarch Creeks are against the measure; they run three locations with electronic bingo equipment. The tribe had before pushed for a deal that would provide them with either an extra casino site in the state or exclusivity over casino games in return for revenue sharing with the state.

The legislative session still has three meeting days for legislators. It’s possible that the session ends next week.

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