Alabama legal gambling push dies in state Senate

Alabama legal gambling push dies in state Senate
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Alabama lawmakers’ quest to legalize a package of gaming offerings including a state lottery failed to pass before the end of the legislative session, leaving the efforts dead for 2024.

House Bill 151 and House Bill 152 overwhelmingly passed in the Alabama House 72-29 but an amended version did not get approval in the Senate before the session concluded late last week.

The legislation would have allowed for a state education lottery as well as electronic games of chance, raffles and paper bingo at seven dog racing or bingo locations across the state. Residents would also have been able to participate in national lotteries including the Mega Million and Powerball lotteries. Tables, cards, dice and live dealers would have still been prohibited.

Despite efforts from the likes of Rep. Russell Blackshear, who authored the bills, and Sen. Greg Albritton, who sponsored them in the Senate, Alabama’s 25-year stalemate on gaming legislation will continue into 2025. Alabama last put gaming to an ultimately unsuccessful vote back in 1999.

In a Senate test session two weeks ago, the two amended measures fell one short of the 21 votes that are required for approval.

Lawmakers frustrated by amendment, missed opportunities

One sticking point was the Senate amendments introduced in March, which scaled back the bill to remove sports betting language, reduce the number of gaming venues involved and change the casino proposal to focus purely on racing.

Albritton actually ended up voting against the package as he was disillusioned by sports betting being left out.

“Sports gaming is an ever-growing, huge business in Alabama,” he told the Associated Press. “Much of it is illegal and undercover. We just refuse to regulate it, to control it.” Albritton was also frustrated that the amended version of the bill “cut out” the Poarch Creek Indians and prevented them from entering a compact with the state.

The legislation also would have created the Alabama Gaming Commission to regulate the approved forms of gambling and revenue would have been funneled into educational measures. Alabama projected a state lottery could generate between $305 million to $379 million in net revenue annually.

Rep. Barbara Drummond, who voted in favor of the bill when it passed through the House, expressed disappointment over that missed opportunity.

“We got so close, one vote. I mean, that’s what’s so disappointing. It was one vote,” she told AP. “It not only represented and gave people a right to vote, but it also would have provided healthcare for countless poor people in Alabama, a boost for education.”

The impasse also frustrated those who believe there is widespread support for an educational lottery.

“I think the people of Alabama want and deserve a lottery vote. However, the bill is always hijacked by gambling interests wanting to expand gaming in the state, Sen. Arthur Orr told News 19. “I’m committed to pushing next session for that lottery bill that just gives the citizens the right to vote on the lottery.”

However, Gov. Kay Ivey told reporters she does not plan on calling a special session for the bill this year, leaving it in purgatory until 2025.

Sen. Albritton is still optimistic that gambling legislation will get over the line in the future.

“Don’t worry, the problem’s not going away. We’re getting closer.”