Proposal for Alabama lottery, five casinos gets first big test today

Published 6:25 am Wednesday, February 10, 2021

A lottery and casino bill is headed to its first test in the Alabama Legislature as supporters push to get the issue of gambling before voters for the first time since 1999.

The Senate Tourism and Marketing Committee is considering the proposal Wednesday morning, and if approved it could go the Senate floor as early as Thursday.

The bill by Republican Sen. Del Marsh of Anniston proposes a state lottery and five casinos offering table games, sports betting and slot machines. The casinos would be located at four existing dog tracks plus a fifth site in north Alabama that would be run by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.

“I think the people of Alabama are ready to address this issue and want to. Polling data shows they want a vote on this,” Marsh told reporters Tuesday. “My job is to put together a piece of legislation that serves the needs of the state, controls gaming, and provides revenue to accomplish things that people of Alabama want to see accomplished.”

The committee meets at 10 a.m. Wednesday at the Alabama Statehouse.

The proposal would have to be approved by a three-fifths majority of each chamber of the Alabama Legislature and then a majority of voters in a statewide vote.

Alabamians last voted on gambling in 1999 when they defeated a lottery proposed by then-Gov. Don Siegelman. Gambling bills introduced since 1999 have fallen short under a mix of conservative opposition to gambling as a revenue source and a turf war over which entities could offer casino games or electronic bingo machines, which resemble slot machines.

Under the current proposal, one casino would be located at a north Alabama site operated by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. Marsh said it would be located in either Jackson or DeKalb counties.

The other four would be at VictoryLand dog track in Macon County, Greenetrack in Green County, the racecourse in Birmingham and the racecourse in Mobile, which is owned by the Poarch Band. The proposal also would encourage the governor to negotiate with the Poarch Band for a compact involving their other facilities.

Marsh said he hopes the Tourism Committee, which he chairs, will vote it out Wednesday to put it in line for a floor debate Thursday. However, Marsh said he does not intend to seek a Senate vote Thursday, and will instead wait until lawmakers return from a weeklong break.

Marsh said he is proposing to use lottery revenue to fund college scholarships.

Casino revenue would be divided with 75% going to technology infrastructure, rural health and mental health services; 5% going to local governments and the remainder to be appropriated by the Legislature.