Alabama lawmaker proposes state lottery, casino bill

Published 9:07 pm Thursday, March 3, 2022

An Alabama lawmaker on Thursday introduced a proposal to create a lottery and allow multiple casinos, as well as sports betting, in the state, but the bill faces a ticking legislative clock and long-term divisions that have sunk previous gambling proposals.

“It’s time Alabama got in the game,” Republican Sen. Greg Albritton said at a news conference.

Albritton said the state is missing out on hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue each year. “We need to take action on this now,” he said. “Waiting another year is not going to help us.”

The bill introduced Thursday would create a state lottery with proceeds going to fund college scholarships and other education needs. It would also authorize eight casinos with table games and on-line sports betting at sites owned by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians and at existing dog tracks. It would also authorize two smaller operations with up to 300 slot machines.

Four casinos would be located at the site of existing dog tracks: Greenetrack in Greene County, the Birmingham Race Course in Jefferson County, VictoryLand in Macon County, and the Mobile County Greyhound Racing facility in Mobile County. The licenses would be competitively bid although the track owners would have the opportunity to come in and make a final bid for the license.

A fifth casino operated by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians would be located in either DeKalb County or Jackson County. The tribe, under federal law, would also be allowed table games at its three existing locations.

Two smaller sites — one in Lowndes County and one in Houston County — would be allowed to operate a limited number of electronic gambling machines.

Rep. Kelvin Lawrence, a Democrat from Hayneville, said the bill would likely lead to the closure of both existing electronic bingo facilities in Lowndes County. A single site in the county could have up to 300 gambling machines, under the proposal.

“It’s just an effort to appease us, but it basically puts us on life support. … We’re talking about a community that is underprivileged, 90% poverty. It would be a catastrophe if those facilities are closed,” Lawrence said.

If approved by lawmakers, the proposal would go before voters in November.

Albritton said he wants a committee vote on the proposal Tuesday. However, there are 12 meeting days remaining in the 30-day regular legislative session, giving the measure a small window to win approval.

“We’ll have to see how the body reacts to the work that he’s done in regard to this very important issue,” Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Reed said when asked about the bill’s chances.

The latest bill is similar to one state senators approved last year, but the measure failed in the Alabama House of Representatives.

Alabama is just one of five states — along with Nevada, Utah, Alaska and Hawaii — without a state lottery. Voters in 1999 rejected a lottery proposed by then-Gov. Don Siegelman.

Since then, efforts to legalize casinos or create a state lottery have failed under a fatal mix of conservative opposition to legalized gambling and turf wars over who will get the licenses for the lucrative games.