Alabama lottery, casino debate delayed for at least two weeks

Published 6:05 am Wednesday, February 24, 2021

A vote on lottery and casino legislation is being delayed in the Alabama Senate, the Republican sponsor said Tuesday, as he negotiates final details, including the possibility of increasing the number of casino sites from eight to 10.

Republican Sen. Del Marsh of Anniston told reporters that he planned to work on the enabling legislation and the constitutional amendment over the next two weeks before seeking a vote.

“There is an overwhelming appetite for the people to address this issue and vote on it,” Marsh said.
Marsh contended he has the 21 votes needed to pass the bill in the 35-member Alabama Senate. But he said the additional work should boost its chances in the House of Representatives, a body that has traditionally been more skeptical of gambling legislation.

“I do believe we’ll be getting to the floor in a couple of weeks,” Marsh said.

The current bill proposes establishing a state lottery and five casinos — one at four existing dog tracks plus a fifth site in north Alabama that would be run by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. It also urges the governor to negotiate with the Poarch Band for a compact involving their three other sites that currently have electronic bingo machines.

Other smaller operators, including sites in Lowndes and Houston counties, have asked to be included.
Marsh said one idea is to increase the five sites to seven based on Alabama’s congressional districts, and have would-be casino operators apply for the license in those two districts.

“It opens up two more additional congressional districts and therefore two more opportunities for others to come forward and make a presentation to the (gaming) commission and have consideration,” Marsh said.
Under current district lines that proposal would allow an additional site in southeast Alabama and another in north Alabama. However, it would cut out White Hall Entertainment Center in Lowndes County because Greentrack is in the congressional district.

Jason Hendrix, Manager of White Hall Entertainment Center, said the proposal “would cost jobs and critical tax revenues in areas that most need them.” Some districts would have more than one casino when the three tribal locations open.

“There is no logical or fair reason to exclude Lowndes County. Any proposal needs to start with the bingo sites that have been authorized by the voters of Alabama the longest. Senator Marsh’s newest proposal to have one site per congressional district is not based on reality or fairness. With existing sovereign sites it would provide more than one site per certain congressional districts while arbitrarily excluding Lowndes County to favor some congressional districts over others,” Hendrix said in a statement.

Marsh said recent polling shows that the public would be open to additional sites, but want the number controlled.

“We can’t guarantee everybody a slot because the people don’t want an overabundance of these facilities, statewide. They just don’t,” Marsh said. The Republican senator said he thought 10 casinos was about the maximum people would accept.

Marsh’s 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.

Alabama is one of just five states without a state lottery.

Alabamians last voted on gambling in 1999 when they defeated a lottery proposed by then-Gov. Don Siegelman. Gambling bills introduced since then 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.