An Alabama lottery and gambling bill that would also allow sports betting has advanced to the full House of Representatives for a vote this week.
The sweeping measure that would allow state voters whether to create a lottery and bring casino-style gambling to the Yellowhammer State received approval Tuesday from the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee.
The bill also stipulates casinos at VictoryLand dog track in Macon County, Greentrack dog track in Greene County, the Crossing at Big Creek in Houston County, the Birmingham Race Course, and Mobile Greyhound Park in Mobile. In addition, the bill would also allow three casinos for the Poarch Band of Creek Indians at their locations.
The voters will have a chance to vote on any type of gambling in Alabama after 23 years when they will be deciding the matter in the November 2022 election.
The state Senate already approved the lottery and casino legislation last month.
What Happened on Tuesday?
The House Economic Development and Tourism Committee approved the amendment, SB 319, after an hour-long public hearing. The hearing was dominated by those opposing gambling and sports betting in Alabama. Among the leading critics was a former state governor, who questioned the exclusive structure of the bill and its effects on facilities in Greene and Lowndes counties.
Rep. Kelvin Lawrence, whose district includes Lowndes County, said the proposed measure would put us in a hole and would bury them, saying that it is not fair.
Rep. Chris Blackshear of Phenix City said that 1999 was the last time since the people of Alabama had a chance to vote on a comprehensive gaming plan or any type of gambling in the Yellowhammer State.
“Since then, nearly 200 pieces of legislation pertaining to gaming lottery, gambling have been introduced in some form.”
Support for Gambling, and Some Opposition
Blackshear supported the bill saying illegal gambling is occurring in the state now, arguing that the bill would provide the state much-needed revenues, besides protecting players with appropriate regulatory measures.
“One, gambling exists in the state…Two, it’s mostly unregulated… Three, the state sees no revenue from the gambling.”
Former Alabama Senator Phill Williams and Joe Godfrey were among the key opposers of the bill. Godfrey, executive director of the Alabama Citizens Action Program, opposed the measure seeking to curb illegal gambling instead of legalizing it in the state.
He asked to name any jurisdiction where illegal gambling stopped after legalization. “That’s like saying let’s legalize prostitution in order to restrict it…”
Financial Potential of the Bill Carried the Day
However, among the key supporters of the bill was former State Treasurer Young Boozer, who said the lottery and casinos could combine to raise up to $700 million annually. Boozer was a member of the governor’s study group on gambling policy.
Boozer added that the annual revenues are likely to grow at 3-4% based on the overall growth in the state. He said Alabama already lags behind 45 states that offer lotteries, with a standard successful business model that Alabama can follow. He also said the casinos with Class III gaming are operational in as many as 41 states, with legalized sports betting has expanded to 27 states, and active in 21.
“It is my opinion that gaming will work in Alabama, and it will be worth it,” said Boozer.
Key Details of the Bill
The Alabama Senate authorized lottery and casino bill on April 13 with a 23-9 vote majority. The amendment is sponsored by Sen. Jim McClendon. A similar measure sponsored earlier by Sen. Del Marsh was rejected in March.
The bill would also direct the Alabama governor to negotiate a gaming compact with the Poarch Band, a gaming tribe that operates casinos on tribal land in Montgomery, Atmore, and Wetumpka.
The estimated lottery revenues of up to $274 million a year would go to a Lottery Trust Fund, with money going to a postsecondary scholarship program.
Gaming and sports betting would be levied at 20% annually, with the potential to raise the tax by 2% every five years, up to a maximum of 30%.
The revenues would be divided between information technology, rural health care, and mental health services.
Gambling bills in the past have become victim to disputes between the Poarch Band and the owners of dog tracks over games offered and the governance of the establishments. Those disputes also killed lottery bills.