A group of Alabama lawmakers has unveiled a gambling bill aiming to introduce various forms of gambling, including a state lottery and the establishment of 10 casinos across the conservative Deep South state.
Led by Republican Rep. Andy Whitt, the initiative seeks to address longstanding debates surrounding gambling in Alabama. The proposal comes at an important moment as Alabama remains one of the few states without a state lottery since lawmakers rejected a similar proposal in 1999.
Unlike neighbouring states such as Mississippi, which has embraced full-fledged casinos, Alabama has maintained a cautious approach to gambling expansion. However, with lawmakers estimating that the proposed legislation could generate over $800 million in annual revenue, the issue has garnered renewed attention.
If approved by three-fifths of lawmakers, the proposal would be put on the ballot for voters to decide. The move has received backing from Republican Governor Kay Ivey, indicating growing support within the GOP ranks for gambling expansion.
Republican Rep. Chris Blackshear expressed confidence in garnering the necessary support within the Republican-dominated House, highlighting the potential economic benefits of the proposed legislation. However, the bill’s fate hinges on bipartisan cooperation, with lawmakers from both parties reserving judgment until they have thoroughly reviewed the details.
The comprehensive bill aims to address concerns surrounding electronic gambling machines while introducing provisions for a state lottery, new casino sites, and sports betting.
Proponents argue that lottery proceeds would provide crucial funding for education programs, including scholarships for community and technical colleges, while revenue from casinos and sports betting would bolster the state’s general fund, subject to legislative allocation.
However, alongside the gambling bill, lawmakers have also introduced controversial measures aimed at combating voter fraud. One such proposal includes restrictions on absentee ballot handling, making it a misdemeanor to deliver someone else’s absentee completed ballot or distribute a prefilled absentee ballot application with someone else’s name.
Republican Senator Garlan Gudger defended the proposal, stating it would prevent “bad actors” from tampering with elections.
Opponents, however, have raised concerns about potential disenfranchisement, arguing that the proposed measures could discourage voting by absentee ballot. Tari Williams, representing a Birmingham-based nonprofit, criticized the bill, stating, “This bill doesn’t just erect barriers, it obliterates the bridge connecting disenfranchised citizens to their democratic right to vote.”