Lottery, Casino Bill Heads To First Test In Alabama Legislature

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Casino and lottery legislation is headed to its first test in the Alabama Legislature as Republican supporters aim to get the proposal before voters this fall.

The sweeping proposal would authorize up to 10 casino sites with table games and slot machines, a state lottery, and allow sports betting at in-person locations and through online platforms.

The House Economic Development and Tourism Committee will vote on the legislation Wednesday afternoon, Committee Chairman Andy Whitt said. If approved, it could be up for a key vote on the floor of the Alabama House of Representatives as soon as Thursday.

If passed by the Legislature, the proposal would go before Alabama voters in the November general election, the first such public vote on gambling since a proposed lottery was rejected in 1999.

“It’s been a quarter of a century since the last time the citizens got to express their opinion on this matter," Rep. Chris Blackshear, the sponsor of the bill, told the committee.

Preston Roberts, a lobbyist for the Alabama Farmers Federation, which opposes legalized gambling, told the committee during a Tuesday hearing that the proposal does not do enough to regulate gambling.

"We have more than 150 pages of painstaking detail about how to protect gambling businesses and virtually nothing to protect Alabamians," Roberts said.

Don Siegelman, who was the last Alabama governor to obtain a statewide vote on a lottery, said he believes lawmakers should separate the casino and lottery proposals. Siegelman’s 1999 proposal would have created a lottery to fund college scholarships and pre-kindergarten programs.

State Treasurer Young Boozer said Alabama is “late to the game” on legalizing gambling, noting that 45 states have lotteries and most also have some sort of casino gambling.

“Gaming will work in Alabama and it will be worth it,” Boozer told the committee.

The Legislative Services Agency estimated that taxes on the three forms of gambling would generate up to $912 million in revenue annually.

That revenue would largely be steered to two new funds for lawmakers to decide how to use. While the legislation names uses, such as scholarships for students attending two-year and technical colleges, it does not guarantee a funding level.

A representative of the Alabama Community College System, which is not taking a position on the bill, said the scholarships would help students attend college who otherwise "might not have the opportunity."

The legislation allows for up to 10 casinos, including at the Poarch Band of Creek Indians’ three existing bingo operations in Atmore, Wetumpka and Montgomery. The bill would also extend an opportunity to the tribe to operate a new site in northeast Alabama.

Robbie McGhee, vice-chairman of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians Tribal Council, told the committee that the tribe can’t support the legislation in its current form. McGhee wrote in prepared remarks for the committee that it “stymies our ability to operate competitive gaming enterprises.”