Alabama gambling & lottery bill goes to House, could be on ballot in November of 2022
By Fran Thompson
The Alabama Senate passed a bill to allow a lottery, casino gambling and retail and online sports betting in the state, the first step in what will still be an uphill battle to allow gambling in state.
The bill now moves to the Alabama House of Representatives. If the House passes the proposed constitutional amendment, it will be on the November 2022 general election ballot. The House legislative session is scheduled to end May 30, and the bill must pass with a three-fifths super majority from the politically conservative legislature.
Sponsor Jim Mcclendon, a republican representing Springville, said he just wanted to sponsor a state lottery bill, but he did not have the support for such a bill.
“All (his original bill) did was give Alabamians an opportunity to have a vote if they wanted a lottery or not,” McClendon said. “I couldn’t get that bill passed. I didn’t have the votes.”
Proceeds from legalized gambling would be earmarked for public education, infrastructure improvements, broadband access and health and mental health services for rural areas.
Profits would also direct 5 percent of lottery revenues to a fund for education retirees, until the fund reaches $100 million.
Profits will also allow the state to reduce the state sales tax on groceries from 4 to 2 percent, starting in 2023. If revenues from the lottery exceed $297 million in any year after 2024, the grocery tax would be cut to 1 percent. If revenues exceed $396 million, the state would phase out grocery taxes for that year. The bill would also prevent local governments from raising grocery taxes.
The Poarch Band of Creek Indians, who own OWA in Foley, would be allowed to offer the full range of casino games at their resorts in Atmore, Montgomery, and Wetumpka. Currently, those resorts only offer electronic bingo.
“This historic vote is the first step to empower Alabamians who deserve to have their voice heard on this issue, and be allowed to vote on a Constitutional Amendment,’’ said Stephanie A. Bryan, the Tribe’s Chairwoman and CEO.
The bill, unless it is tweaked in the House, will allow Alabamians to vote to create a lottery, and authorize up to nine sites statewide to operate casino-style table games through licenses issued by the Alabama Gaming Commission through a competitive bidding process.
The current operators of greyhound racing tracks in Birmingham, Mobile, Greene County, Macon County, and Houston County would have the right to make a final bid exceeding the highest bidder. The bill will give the right to make the final bid for the casino in DeKalb or Jackson County to the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, who will negotiate a compact with the state to share a portion of their casino revenue.
The four states that border Alabama and a total of 45 states currently have lotteries. Alabama, Nevada, Utah, Hawaii and Alaska are the only states currently without a state lottery. Mississippi started selling lottery tickets in 2019.
A study commissioned by Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey issued a report in 2020 that found legalized gambling and a lottery could generate up to $700 million a year in revenue for the state ($300 million from the lottery, $400 million from casinos, $10 million from sports betting).
The governor has long been on record as being in favor of letting voters decide if they want gambling to be allowed in the state.
Senator Del Marsh sponsored a similar gambling bill that the Senate narrowly defeated in March.
“Our people are driving across state lines to gamble and purchase lottery tickets, and those neighboring states are collecting the revenue and reaping the benefits straight from the pockets of Alabamians,” Marsh said. “This is revenue that can be used to finance countless desperately needed projects for our state and improve the quality of life for those who live here.’’
Former Auburn football coach and current senator Tommy Tuberville has also supported voter’s right to decide for themselves if legalized gambling should be allowed in the state.
The influential Alabama Citizens Action Program has strongly opposed gambling in any form. But gambling amendments in other traditionally conservative states such as Arkansas, South Dakota and Louisiana have overwhelmingly been approved through ballot measures in recent years.
Alabama voters rejected the lottery in a referendum back in 1999, even though its governor, Don Siegelman, was elected on a pro-lottery platform. Voters, about 50 percent of those registered, headed to the polls primarily to vote on the lottery.
It failed by 100,000 votes ( 54-46 percent), even though an election week poll by the pro-lottery Alabama Education Assn. indicated it would pass by the same margin that it failed.