Posted on: May 5, 2021, 06:23h.
Last updated on: May 5, 2021, 06:23h.
A revived bipartisan push to establish a lottery and expand casino gaming in Alabama will go to a House vote Thursday, the final day of the session.
On Tuesday, the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee advanced SB 319 after an hourlong public hearing. The bill was passed by the Senate several weeks ago.
Alabama is one of just five states – along with Nevada, Utah, Alaska, and Hawaii – that does not have a lottery. As well as providing one, the bill would also legalize nine full-scale casinos with slot machines, table games, and sports betting.
The Legislative Services Agency estimates the bill could create up to $710 million a year in new taxes. The money would go to state programs like education, the expansion of high-speed internet access, healthcare, mental healthcare, and others.
If approved by the House, it would then need to be ratified by Alabamans in a public referendum, probably in November 2022, which would change the state constitution.
The Montgomery Advertiser reports Tuesday’s hearing was dominated by opponents of the bill, and not just those who found gambling distasteful or immoral. There were also representatives of communities that rely on revenues from small gambling operations, such as bingo halls.
Charlie McAlpine, the mayor of Forkville, a town in Greene County, complained that the “whole economic structure” of the county was threatened by the proposed gambling expansion.
Greene County, specifically the existing greyhound track in Eutaw, is one of the predesignated locations the bill earmarks for six new commercial casinos. The others include the state’s three other dog tracks, in in Birmingham, Macon County, and Mobile, and at an existing bingo facility in Dothan.
The sixth would be in DeKalb County or Jackson County in northeast Alabama at a site chosen by the state’s only federally recognized tribe, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.
Poarch Creek Expansion
The legalization of commercial gaming would also enable the Poarch Creeks to offer Class III casino gaming at their on-reservation gaming facilities. That’s provided the state’s Republican governor, Kay Ivey, is able to negotiate a compact with the tribe.
The bill would establish an Alabama Gaming Commission to oversee the lottery, casinos, sports betting, and bingo. It would make operating illegal gambling a felony rather than a misdemeanor.
“Our people are driving across state lines to gamble and purchase lottery tickets, and those neighboring states are collecting the revenue and reaping the benefits straight from the pockets of Alabamians,” said Senator Del Marsh (R-12th), the driving force behind the legislation in the Senate.
“This is revenue that can be used to finance countless desperately needed projects for our state and improve the quality of life for those who live here.”