Alabama Gambling Hits Senate Roadblock, Amendments Suggested

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The gambling bill that aimed to put a comprehensive Alabama gambling law reform proposal before voters in November has stalled in the state Senate this week.

HB151 and 152 call for a referendum on the idea of physical casinos in Alabama, as well as online sports betting and a lottery.

They passed the state House last month with a 70 to 32 in-favor vote.

Despite also seeing support from Governor Kay Ivey, the Senate has not been so favorable on the proposal.

Since passing through various committees over the last fortnight, the draft of the amended bills has dropped commercial casinos and sports betting. They did retain a proposed Alabama lottery, and the potential for Class II tribal casinos in Alabama through the Poarch Creek Indians.

Even with those changes, things look tight as discussions continue. Local media suggests that 18 state Senators currently favor the proposal, just three short of the 21 needed to pass.

Alabama currently has some of the strictest gambling laws in the U.S, with no legal casinos, sports betting, or lottery available. The last time voters were asked their opinion on the issue was in 1999.

Hourly Changes

The pair of bills have been bouncing back and forth in Senate committees since the House approved them in early February.

“Sounds like it changes hourly,” one source told local news media.

“They’ll be making changes in the bill. If the Senate takes it out, the House will put it back in, and then who knows.” 

Even if the changes do pass the Senate, the House will then also have to take a second look at the amended bills.

The current version favored by the Senate has dropped sports betting and commercial casinos, but kept a state lottery and an expansion of Tribal gaming and Alabama horse race betting.

Senator Greg Albritton (R-22) is the main Senate sponsor of the bill.

He says he is happy with the concessions, if it passes. The creation of a gambling commission to oversee regulated gambling in one place, rather than the patchwork of amendments in various locales the state has now, was his main aim in supporting the bill, which this amended version will do.

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Political Moves

The situation is complicated further because Alabama’s constitution will need to be amended before any legal gambling market can launch. This requires a public referendum on the issue.

There is wide support from the Alabama public for at least an opportunity to vote on legal gambling. Some 75% of respondents were in support of a referendum on the issue in a recent poll.

The bill is also supported by Governor Ivey, who has mentioned her support for a gambling referendum in recent key speeches.

Despite that, many Republican Senators from Ivey’s own party are staunchly against a gambling referendum.

“They are basically giving Gov. Ivey the finger,” one Senator said, speaking to Alabama Political Reporter.

Another aspect of the bill that was changed in the Senate was the date of the proposed referendum.

The initial plan was to pose the gambling question on the same ballot as the November 2024 presidential election.

However, some Republicans posed concerns that the gambling issue could inspire a higher Democratic turnout on the day, which is a key issue for many in the GOP-dominated Alabama Senate.

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