Alabama lawmakers to vote on casino, lottery bill next week

Published 10:02 pm Thursday, March 4, 2021

Alabama lawmakers are headed to a vote on a lottery and casino bill next week, the bill sponsor said Thursday, even though last-minute negotiations are continuing over the number of casinos and other details.

Republican Sen. Del Marsh of Anniston said he expects his bill will come to the Senate floor Tuesday in what will be the first major test of the proposal to start a lottery and have as many as 10 casinos in the state.

If approved by both chambers of the Alabama Legislature, the measure will go before voters for final approval. Alabamians voted down the idea of a state lottery in 1999. Marsh argued it is time to put the idea in front of voters again, and he believes they will approve it.

“The polling shows even among Republicans, the vast majority are ready to vote on this,” Marsh said, adding that he thinks that they will vote to approve it.

“There’s no doubt that the lottery is more popular. But the gaming is actually more popular than I expected in the polling,” Marsh said.

Many of the details of the bill were undecided as of Thursday.

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 existing 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.

Marsh contended he has the 21 votes needed to pass the bill in the 35-member Alabama Senate.

“I have the votes, whether it’s a five (casino) plan or a seven plan,” Marsh said of the Senate vote.

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.

Senate Majority Leader Clay Scofield, R-Guntersville, said the people in his district seem to support a lottery, but not casinos.

“Lottery, I hear that a lot. I hear that a lot that people want to vote on a lottery yesterday. I’m receiving a tremendous amount of emails and phone calls opposed to casinos,” Scofield said, adding that other senators are not receiving that feedback.