Alabama casino and lottery proposals rejected as support for change falters in House of Representatives

Image source: Shutterstock

The prospect of an Alabama lottery is in doubt as proponents of new lottery and casino legislation failed to gather enough support in the state’s House of Representatives late last week. 

According to The Fresno Bee, the bill’s demise led to finger-pointing over who was responsible and an unsuccessful effort by Republicans to switch the bill for a GOP-backed lottery proposal after a day of negotiations.

House Speaker Mac McCutcheon was reportedly “doubtful” that the legislation will be passed with only a day remaining in the 2021 session. The final day of the legislative session is May 17.

McCutcheon was quoted: “Tensions were high because people have been working so hard. Everybody was just really upset at the way things were. There was no effort to pull anything behind anybody’s back. We were trying to get a bill on the floor.”

“It’s going to be difficult to get it passed now,” he added.

As for the reason for the legislation’s failure, Republicans blamed Democrats for making last-minute demands on the bill, while Democrats criticized Republicans for pushing to change out the bill.

Representative Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee, commented: “If you don’t have integrity when you’re dealing with gaming, you need to give it up. And what I have seen in this room tonight, integrity is nowhere around.”

The casino and lottery bill needed support from both parties to win approval due to some conservative members’ opposition to gambling. Roadblocks emerged over locations and requests from Democrats to sharpen vague language suggesting that proceeds could be used for Medicaid expansion.

As the legislation remained short of needed votes, Republicans brought forth a lottery bill instead and tried to pass it without Democrat support. The House Rules Committee brought a proposed calendar that included the bill and tried to set a quick vote, but it was later dropped.

House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels said Democrats weren’t involved in the lottery bill’s conversations, commenting: “We weren’t privy to those particular conversations on our side of the aisle. That was something that was quite disturbing. It was a surprise to us just like it was a surprise to most members in the chamber.”

Republicans opposed to gambling were also angered by the move, as Representative Rich Wingo, R-Tuscaloosa, added they were pushing a quick vote on the bill that “nobody has read”.

McCutcheon said there was an attempt by lawmakers to be sympathetic to constituents’ desire to vote on a lottery bill.

Alabama is one of five states in the US without a state lottery. Citizens of the Yellowhammer State last voted on the issue of gambling in 1999, rejecting a lottery proposed by then Governor Don Siegelman.

Republican Representative Chris Blackshear of Phenix City, who handled the Senate-passed bill in the Alabama House, said Alabamians want to vote on a lottery, but conceded that putting together a bill has proven difficult.

The original legislation, which would require approval by lawmakers and state voters, included a state lottery to fund college scholarships and nine casinos located primarily at existing state dog tracks and sites owned by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.

That bill faced opposition from a mix of Republicans opposed to legalized gambling and lawmakers claiming the bill had already decided winners and losers by naming casino locations. Some also argued it is unfair to exclude existing electronic bingo locations in Greene and Lowndes counties operating under current constitutional amendments.