Alabama Gambling Bills Proposed, Governor Backs Referendum

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Two Republican representatives in Alabama have this week introduced a comprehensive gambling bill to their fellow state legislators at the state Capitol building in Montgomery.

House Bill 152 aims to legalize Alabama sports betting, physical casino venues, and a state lottery, as well as establishing an Alabama Gaming Commission to regulate the new markets.

Representatives Chris Blackshear (R-80) and Andy Whitt (R-6) are the primary sponsors of the bill.

It has been introduced just a week after Governor Kay Ivey mentioned the possibility of legal gambling in Alabama in her “State of the State Address” on Wednesday, February 7.

Ivey wants a public referendum on the issue in November during the 2024 presidential election. She backs the proposal issued by Blackshear and Whitt.

“I believe the current proposal being contemplated by the legislature is good for Alabama, and I will be carefully watching it move through the process,” she said in her speech.

“Now is the time for Alabama voters to have another say on this issue.”

Details of the Bill

Alabama last had a vote on any kind of legal gambling in 1999, where voters rejected the idea of an Alabama lottery. However, a lot has changed in the landscape of U.S. gambling since then, to put it mildly.

Currently, only a few limited forms of charitable gaming are allowed in the state, under various local amendments to the wider ban on games of chance. That includes some electronic bingo machines at casino style venues owned by the state’s Poarch Band of Creek Indians.

The new bill aims to simplify that and introduce legal sports betting, casino gambling, and a lottery.

It follows models introduced in some 38 states that have legal sports betting, as well as dozens more that have physical casinos, both tribal and commercial. It does not contain reference to Alabama online casinos.

It would allow seven licenses for new Alabama casinos, including one reserved for the Poarch Band. Sports betting licenses have not yet been detailed, presumably because it will be the responsibility of the proposed Alabama Gaming Commission to decide how such a market would work.

Tax-wise, there are already suggestions. Under the proposed regulations, casinos will be taxed at 24% on gaming revenues, and sports betting will be taxed at 17%.

Casino licenses will cost $5 million initially, and operators would have to guarantee an initial investment of at least $35 million, some of which will be earmarked for local community investments.

The legislation proposes establishing an Alabama Gaming Trust Fund. This fund will not receive any revenues until the state’s General Fund Reserve reaches $300 million. It currently sits at $150 million.

After that, 95% of gambling revenues will be directed to the Gaming Trust Fund. This will be earmarked for a variety of causes, including education, responsible gambling measures, and investments in communities that may host the proposed casinos.

The Bill’s Prospects

With support from the Governor, and the bill’s eventual need of a full referendum, proponents of the legislation are hopeful that those opposed will let Alabama’s voters decide on the issue in November.

Supporters say casinos, sports betting, and a lottery could make the Alabama taxman a combined $800 million in annual revenue within five years.

“We haven’t had a vote since 1999. I hear it from my constituents … that they want the ability to vote on gaming,” said Representaitve Chip Brown (R-105).

However, HB152 still has a way to go. It has currently not even been considered by committees, and must also pass a full Alabama House and Senate vote before any referendum can take place.

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