Editorial Roundup: Alabama

Decatur Daily. April 6, 2024.

Editorial: Odds for a state lottery remain long

Eyes of lottery players this weekend will be on Powerball, where the jackpot for Saturday night’s drawing stands at $1.23 billion — the eighth largest in U.S. lottery history — after going more than three months without a big winner.

Some of those eyes will be in Alabama, even though Alabama doesn’t participate in Powerball — or Mega Millions or any other state or multi-state lottery.

Gambling remains mostly illegal in Alabama. Officially, anyway. That’s our story, and we’re sticking to it, even as thousands of Alabamians cross state lines — north, south, east and west — to buy lottery tickets in hope of beating the odds and striking it rich. Other states — Tennessee, Florida, Georgia and even Mississippi — reap the rewards of Alabamians’ frustrated desire to play the lottery.

This year, however, was going to be different. This was the year the Alabama Legislature was finally going to pass comprehensive gambling legislation that would, among other things, establish a state lottery.

Alabama’s government coffers would finally get their cut when Alabamians put down their $2 for a lottery ticket.

Then the same thing that has happened in the past happened again. And now the odds of the Alabama Legislature passing gambling bills and getting the proposal before voters are only somewhat better than the odds of, well, winning the lottery. (Did we mention it’s been three months since someone won the Powerball jackpot?)

The Alabama House passed comprehensive gaming legislation that set up not only a state lottery, but laid out plans for casinos, sports betting and entering into a compact with the Porch Band of Creek Indians to allow full-service casinos on tribal property. This is the plan that divvied up the gaming pie among all of the state’s special interests.

The state Senate, however, rejected that and passed bills that would do one thing and one thing only: create a state lottery.

The lottery is popular in Alabama. Other forms of gambling are less so. But the various interests behind the other forms of gambling know their best bet of getting what they want is to hitch their fortunes to the lottery — and sink any lottery proposal that doesn’t include them.

It’s a package deal, but for some, the package is a poison pill.

The rival House and Senate proposals will now go to a conference committee, which could hammer out a compromise, but state Sen. Greg Albritton, who entered the current legislative session as one of the optimists saying this was the year gambling would finally get done, is no longer feeling optimistic.

“The optimism is gone,” Albritton said this week. “There is plenty of middle ground. There is plenty of opportunity. What we are battling is entrenchment.”

Some senators, he said, simply won’t budge on allowing sports betting or casinos.

It seems the optimism was always misplaced. Lawmakers have tried to kick this ball many times before, only for it to be pulled away at the last second every single time.

Maybe the best response whenever someone says it’s time to pass gambling legislation in Alabama is, “Wanna bet?”