Rolling the dice: Alabama Senate approves casino and lottery legislation

Published 5:41 am Wednesday, April 14, 2021

The Alabama Senate on Tuesday night approved sweeping lottery and casino legislation as lawmakers struck a compromise after years of stalemates on the issue of gambling.

Senators voted 23-9 for the proposed constitutional amendment that would establish a state lottery as well as allow nine casino sites in the state. The bill now moves to the Alabama House of Representatives. If approved by lawmakers in both chambers, the proposal would then go before voters.

“We have done a monumental job in overcoming something that has been haunting this body for as long as I’ve been here,” Republican Sen. Jim McClendon, the sponsor of the bill, said after the vote.

McClendon emphasized Alabama voters will have the final say on the matter. “What we are really okaying is the right for our constituents to come to the voting booth and decide if they like this or not,” McClendon said. If approved he said people “don’t have to drive to Georgia to buy a dadgum lottery ticket.”

The bill is similar to a proposal that failed by two votes earlier this session but includes new provisions such as putting the casino licenses up for bid.

Casino and sports betting sites would be located in Jefferson County, Mobile County, Macon County, Greene County, Houston County and either Jackson or DeKalb counties as well at the three sites owned by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.

The casino licenses would be put out for bid, but the existing dog tracks and electronic bingo operations, such as Greenetrack and VictoryLand dog tracks, would be given an advantage in trying to win the bid. The existing operators will be given the opportunity to come in and make a final bid to exceed the highest bidder to win the license in their respective county. The Poarch Creeks will have the right for the final bid for the north Alabama site in either Jackson or DeKalb counties.

McClendon said the state would get the benefit of a “high bid” but the existing sites “get a chance to stay in the game… and keep the job for their employees and keep their operations going.”

Lawmakers also approved several pieces of enabling legislation. Senate President Pro Tem Greg Reed said having those details locked down helped pick up the additional votes.

Lottery proceeds would be used for education purposes, including a college scholarship program. The state would place a 20% tax on net casino and sports betting revenue. The first $750 million of gaming revenue would be put toward broadband infrastructure in the state.

Alabama is one of five states without a state lottery. Alabama voters in 1999 rejected then-Gov. Don Siegelman’s proposed state lottery, but lawmakers in both parties say they believe voters are now more welcoming to the idea.

The approval came after two other gambling bills stalled this session in the Senate and years of debate over the issue. Sen. Greg Albritton said lawmakers have tried to reach a compromise on the legislation.

“The road and the path that we’ve had to get to this point of having this bill before us has been a difficult and tortuous one,” Albritton, R-Atmore said.