Alabama Lottery Bill Heads to House

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An Alabama legislative committee advanced a lottery proposal Thursday seeking to get the issue before voters first time in more than 20 years. In 1999, the state voters had missed the chance to create a lottery on Oct. 12 referendum.

The House Tourism and Economic Development Committee passed the proposed constitutional amendment and related enabling legislation. While two abstained, no lawmaker opposed the bills on Thursday.

The bills – HB 501 and HB 502 – are now headed to the full House of Representatives. If passed, most of its proceeds will go to post-secondary education.

Alabama Lottery, “Top Issue”

Alabama is one of five states in the nation – and the only one east of the Mississippi River – without a lottery. The other states are Alaska, Hawai, Nevada, and Utah.

Bill sponsor Rep. Chip Brown said it is the top issue as voters in their districts continually ask this question. According to the Republican lawmaker, the Alabamians now drive to other states to buy tickets.

“The people of Alabama have been playing the lottery for years…So, it’s time we kept those dollars in-state and helped out the children of the state of Alabama,” Brown was quoted as saying.

However, Brown’s proposal does not include casino gambling or sports betting.

What Changes Brown’s Legislation Will Bring?

The lottery bills would regulate paper-based lottery games, including Powerball and Mega Millions. However, the legislation would not allow their electronic versions or an online lottery.

Most of the proceeds from the lottery would go to three post-secondary scholarship programs.

If passed, the amendment would still require voters’ approval in November.

According to the Legislative Services Agency, a lottery in Alabama could draw a maximum of $285 million annually.

However, the post-secondary awards would not be needs-based, which drew criticism from some. Rep. Neil Nafferty said he would want equity in that.

Will Alabama Lottery Bill Win Approval?

With seven meeting days remaining in the legislative session, it would be a Herculean task before Brown to get the lottery bills through against time. The main bill, a constitutional amendment, requires the nod from the three-fifths of the lawmakers from both chambers.

But Brown is still optimistic about a vote in the final week of March once his colleagues return from spring break.

“I like our chances,” quoted Brown as saying. “This came from members of the House that want to allow their voters to have the ability to vote on this.”

He said they have time to do it, expecting to get on the floor and get it out.

House Speaker Mac McCutcheon said he would like to make sure first that supporters have the required 63 votes for getting the lottery bills through before “bogging down” one of the remaining days with the lengthy debate. While asking members to spend spring break talking with the stakeholders to determine the level of support, he said they’ve got to see where the votes are.

How Have We Reached Here?

Alabama voters had surprised many in Oct. 1999 by rejecting then-Gov. Don Siegelman’s plan to form a new state lottery to pay for education initiatives. Since then, the efforts to create a lottery fell victim to political opposition and over the question of who would operate lucrative electronic gambling machines.

During the committee debate, Rep. Berry Forte said they have been talking about the lottery ever since 1999. “It’s time for the state residents to decide whether they want a lottery or not.”

Lottery proceeds would provide scholarships to help students pay a part of the tuition at two and four-year programs. The two-year scholarships would be capped at $2,500 maximum. However, the amount of the four-year program would be determined on lottery proceed and the number of eligible recipients.

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