Outlook of Alabama lottery, casino bills in Legislature unclear

Published 9:59 am Sunday, March 15, 2020

Proposals to start a state lottery — and to allow the Poarch Band of Creek Indians to operate casino games — have been filed in the Alabama Legislature, but it is unclear when, or if, the bills will get a vote.

Rep. Steve Clouse, a Republican from Ozark, has filed lottery legislation that has 70 members of the 105-member House of Representatives, signed on as co-sponsors.

A Senate bill by Sen. Greg Albritton, a Republican from Range, would allow the Poarch Band of Creek Indians to exclusively operate up to five casinos including new locations in Jefferson County and northeast Alabama.

Both proposals would have to be approved by voters.

However, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has asked lawmakers to hold off on gambling debates as she awaits a report from a research task force she created. The panel held its first meeting this month and has been directed to issue a report by the end of the year.

Clouse said he introduced the legislation to get the conversation started, but said debate on the bill is on hold.

“I don’t know if it is going to go anywhere. I’m not going to try to move it in committee until I get the go ahead that it will get a hearing in the Senate at least, that the governor would be OK with it. We’re on hold here,” Clouse said.

The bill would allow the sale of lottery tickets, including scratch off instant tickets and multistate lottery games, but would not allow video lottery terminals, which can resemble slot machines. Lottery proceeds would be divided between the state’s prekindergarten program and college scholarships.

Clouse said he would like to see it on the November ballot, because the presidential election is the most highly participated election in the four-year cycle.

“When you look at some of the polling that’s been done over the last several months, the numbers are very high that people want us to address a lottery in Alabama,” House Speaker Mac McCutcheon said.

Ivey spokeswoman Gina Maiola said Ivey “fully supports the people of Alabama ultimately being able to vote on a lottery or other gaming items,” but wants more information first.

Albritton’s bill, if approved by lawmakers and voters, would create a state lottery and allow the Poarch Band of Creek Indians to exclusively operate casinos in the state with slot machines and table games like poker.

There would be two casinos with one in Jefferson County and the other in the northeast corner of the state in either Dekalb, Jackson or Marshall counties. The tribe would pay an upfront license fee of $250 million for each site.

It would direct the governor to start compact negotiations with the tribe to allow casino games at its current three properties in Montgomery, Atmore and Wetumpka.

The proposal comes at the same time the tribe has launched a “Winning for Alabama” public relations campaign for their effort to secure casinos.

The bill is expected to get heavy pushback from lawmakers whose districts include dog tracks. They have objected to giving the tribe a monopoly on gambling. It would do away with any electronic gambling at the tracks.

Lawmakers return to Montgomery on March 31 after a spring break. Albritton said he would like to try to get a committee vote on the bill in April.

Albritton said he believes voters will support the measure, if if he can get it through the Legislature, because of the revenue and entertainment options it would bring.