The Alabama Senate has narrowly rejected a proposal to start a lottery and allow up to 10 casinos plus sports betting in the state, ending the latest push to put the gambling issue before voters for the first time in over 20 years.
However, a lottery bill was introduced immediately following this rejection, keeping the idea of a state lottery in The Yellowhammer State alive for now.
According to The Bellingham Herald, Republican Senator Del Marsh’s proposal fell two votes short of the 21 needed to get the proposed constitutional amendment through the 35-member Alabama Senate on Tuesday.
Senators voted 19-13 for the proposal to authorize a state lottery, seven casinos locations as well as a compact with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians for casino games at their three sites.
Marsh said following the defeat of his bill that he believes the issue of gambling is not a ‘dead issue’ and that it will be looked at again ‘sooner or later.’
The last time Alabama voters had a chance to vote on a gambling issue was in 1999 when they voted down then-Governor Don Siegelman’s proposed state lottery. Marsh added that polling shows that Alabamians want to vote on the idea again.
He stated: “It was the people who were going to make this decision … I’m just really a bit surprised that we didn’t let them do it.”
Alabama Governor Kay Ivey, who had supported getting the gambling issue before voters, said she is willing to continue working on the issue if lawmakers do.
Ivey said in a statement: “Today’s vote by the Alabama Senate confirms more work must be done because this issue is too important to not get it right. No doubt gambling is complex and challenging, but I remain committed to giving the people of Alabama the final say.”
Over the past two decades, any gambling legislation in Alabama has failed due to conservative opposition to gambling and a turf war over which entities could have electronic gambling machines or casino games.
Moments after the defeat of Marsh’s legislation, Republican Senator Jim McClendon introduced a lottery bill, keeping the idea of a state lottery in The Yellowhammer State alive.
McClendon, who voted for Marsh’s plan, said: “People in my district want a dadgum lottery.” He expects the bill to be in committee in about a week.
In the weeks before the debate, Marsh had expressed confidence that he had the 21 votes needed. However, he said he saw support chip away, adding one senator faced ‘peer pressure’ to oppose gambling as a revenue source.
The 13 no votes were all from Republicans. Some Republicans had expressed discomfort with the idea of allowing casinos in the state.
Marsh’s original bill proposed establishing a state lottery and five casinos, one at four existing dog tracks plus a fifth site in north Alabama that would be run by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.
It also authorized a compact with the Poarch Band for casino games at their three existing sites that currently have electronic bingo machines.
Lawmakers on Tuesday added two additional sites to the bill after sites in Lowndes and Houston counties asked to be included. Marsh put Houston County in his substitute bill and an amendment was approved to include Lowndes.
Marsh proposed to use lottery revenue for college scholarships and other education needs, while casino revenue would help expand broadband access in the state as well as fund rural health services.
The Legislative Services Agency has estimated the lottery would generate $194-$279m annually for college scholarships awarded on a mix of need, merit and workforce needs in the state. The agency also estimated the casinos would generate $260-$393m annually from the 20% tax on gaming revenues.