Senate vote on Alabama casino and lottery bill delayed by two weeks

Alabama's casino and lottery legislation Senate vote is being delayed by two weeks as its Republican sponsor continues to negotiate the final details.
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A vote on casino and lottery legislation that would allow sports betting in Alabama is being delayed in the state’s Senate by at least two weeks as its Republican sponsor continues to negotiate the final details.

The Bellingham Herald has reported that Republican Sen. Del Marsh of Anniston plans to work on the enabling legislation and the constitutional amendment over the next two weeks before exploring a vote.

Two weeks ago, the Senate Tourism and Marketing Committee unanimously voted to advance the lottery and casino legislation to the full Alabama Senate, meaning the state moved one step closer to putting the issue of gambling before voters for the first time in over two decades.

In order for the proposal to pass into law, it would have to be approved by a three-fifths majority of each chamber of the state’s Legislature and then a majority of voters in a statewide vote. The bill will need 21 yes votes to clear the Senate.

Marsh believes he has the 21 votes needed for the bill to pass in the Senate. However, the additional work over the next few weeks should give it a better chance in the House of Representatives, which has traditionally been more skeptical of gambling legislation.

He said: “There is an overwhelming appetite for the people to address this issue and vote on it. I do believe we’ll be getting to the floor in a couple of weeks.”

The current bill proposes a state lottery and five casinos offering table games, sports betting and slot machines for Alabama. The casinos would be located at four existing dog tracks with a fifth site in the north part of the state that would be run by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, the state’s only federally recognized Native American tribe.

The proposal also would encourage the governor to hold talks with the Poarch Band for a compact involving its three other sites which currently have electronic bingo machines. Smaller operators, including sites in Lowndes and Houston counties, have asked to be included.

Marsh suggested that one amendment to the bill that might help it pass would be to increase the five sites to seven based on Alabama’s congressional districts and have would-be casino operators apply for the license in those two districts.

He added: “It opens up two more additional congressional districts and therefore two more opportunities for others to come forward and make a presentation to the (gaming) commission and have consideration.”

Under current district lines, that proposal would allow an additional site in southeast Alabama and another in the north. Yet, it would cut out White Hall Entertainment Center in Lowndes County because Greentrack is in the congressional district.

Jason Hendrix, Manager of White Hall Entertainment Center, thinks the proposal “would cost jobs and critical tax revenues in areas that most need them.” Some districts would have more than one casino when the three tribal locations open.

He said in a statement: “There is no logical or fair reason to exclude Lowndes County. Any proposal needs to start with the bingo sites that have been authorized by the voters of Alabama the longest.

“Senator Marsh’s newest proposal to have one site per congressional district is not based on reality or fairness. With existing sovereign sites it would provide more than one site per certain congressional districts while arbitrarily excluding Lowndes County to favor some congressional districts over others.”

Marsh stated that recent polling shows the public would be open to additional sites but would want the number controlled, adding the view that 10 casinos is the maximum amount that would be accepted.

He said: “We can’t guarantee everybody a slot because the people don’t want an overabundance of these facilities, statewide. They just don’t.”

Alabama is one of just five states without a state lottery. Alabamians last voted on gambling in 1999 when they defeated a lottery proposed by then-Governor Don Siegelman.

Gambling bills put forward since then have fallen short due to a mix of conservative opposition to gambling as a revenue source and disagreements over who could offer casino games or electronic bingo machines, which resemble slot machines