Alabama Moves One Step Closer to a Lottery

Wednesday April 14th 2021

On Tuesday, Alabama inched a little nearer to getting a lottery, as the state Senate met in a late-night session to pass a package of gaming legislation by 23 votes to 9.

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It includes an amendment to the state constitution and three related bills that would allow the creation of a lottery and casino gaming.

To survive, the legislation would next need to gain a three-fifths majority in the state House of Representatives - and that's expected to be a difficult hurdle to clear.

Finally, if passed by the Legislature, the constitutional amendment would require direct approval from Alabama voters. Only after these steps had been completed could a state lottery be created.

"Every time I go back to my district, the message is clear: people want to have the right to vote on a state lottery and gaming," said Sen. Jim McClendon, Republican of Springville. "I am hopeful about the potential of getting this constitutional amendment in front of Alabamians so that they have a chance to make the final call on this critical decision for the future of our state."

The gaming package, SB319, includes a constitution amendment and three other bills to allow the creation of a lottery statewide, along with casino-style gaming in six locations: Jefferson County, Mobile County, Macon County, Greene County, Houston County, and Jackson or DeKalb counties.

It also sets up the Alabama Lottery Corporation, a gaming commission to provide oversight, and gives a blueprint for how the revenue would be spent.

Gaming could raise $710 million

Legalized gaming would deliver up to $710 million in yearly proceeds to the state, a report by the Governor's Study Group on Gambling found.

The legislation specifies that gaming revenue would contribute to college scholarships, mental health, and rural hospitals, and provide $750 million for the rollout of broadband.

"This has been a long time coming. The people of Alabama deserve the right to be able to vote on gaming, and they have wanted this chance for the past 20 years. This vote will allow our residents to finally reap the benefits of gaming, by allowing those who play games in Georgia, Mississippi, Florida, or Tennessee to now play those same games at home," said Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton, Democrat of Greensboro.

"This vote has the potential to be a major game-changer for our education and healthcare systems. I’m proud to be a part of this legislative body and this is a great day for the state of Alabama."

Will Alabama Finally Get a Lottery?

Alabama has a long history of attempts to pass gambling legislation, and talk of establishing a lottery comes up almost every year in the state. In 2019, the Senate also passed a lottery bill, only to have it withdrawn before a House of Representatives vote due to lack of support.

The volatile political climate has been likened to Game of Thrones' Westeros, with the rights to legalized gambling hotly contested among different factions.

Dog tracks, which have been legalized in some counties, want rights to electronic gaming. Meanwhile, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians said their plan could "bring Alabama a billion dollars" in its first year if the tribe purchased exclusive rights to run a lottery and build two new casinos.

But despite all the past drama, this year the issue seems to have finally gained traction. Sen. Jim McClendon, a long-standing lottery proponent, said that he feels that most importantly, the attitude of the public has changed. There are several reasons why views may be shifting.

For one thing, neighboring Mississippi has recently created a very successful lottery. Ticket sales began in November 2019, with Powerball and Mega Millions becoming available in January 2020. Mississippi players have responded enthusiastically, driving higher-than-expected revenue for the lottery.

Alabama is now one of just five states in the country without a lottery, and the only one in the east and south.

Governor Kay Ivey said that she's "fully aware" the state is losing money to Mississippi and other states that could be spent at home, as Alabama players cross the border in search of a win.

However, with the gambling issue a political minefield, Ivey temporarily hit pause on a lottery in early 2020 to "get the facts" by creating a study group to report on the impact of gaming.

The group found that gaming could deliver $710 million in revenue to the state - and that there were already high levels of illegal gambling taking place.

Ivey subsequently supported the current legislation, saying there was a need to legalize and regulate gaming to deliver benefits for Alabamians. "Right now, gambling is going on," she stated. "In fact, it is rampant. Much of it is illegal, and it is done in the shadows.

"We need to put laws on the books, control gambling, enforce it and be sure that the people of Alabama are the beneficiaries of the proceeds," she said.

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