Alabama: Legislation to authorize lottery, casinos, sports betting seemingly lacking votes in Senate

The legislation paving the way for the potential legalization of lottery, casinos, and sports betting in Alabama seemingly lacks votes in the Senate. Sen. Greg Albritton, who handles the bill to allow voters to decide whether to authorize the gambling expansion, said that the plan does not have the votes to pass at this point.

Albritton, R-Atmore, told media the Republican caucus, which holds 27 of the 35 seats in the Senate, discussed the legislation Tuesday. He noted that he has to “try to change some senators’ minds” to reach the 21 votes needed to pass the constitutional amendment, which equates to three-fifths of the Senate. 

Albritton did say he thinks a majority of the Senate supports the plan but noted the legislation would not be moving this week. The next step for it will be consideration at the Senate Tourism Committee.

Alabama Reflector quoted Albritton, who said that he had heard of concerns over the casinos and a voting date on the constitutional amendment, but was not sure of the full scope on discussion. 

“You’ll have to ask opponents and proponents of said issue,” said Albritton about casinos. “I don’t know. We’ve got casinos now, and they’ve continued to increase. All we’re trying to do with the bill is decrease them. So I don’t know if they want more or not. I can’t figure it out.”

The voting date on the constitutional amendment would take place on the November election date. Alabama voters have not had a chance to vote on a lottery proposal since 1999.

Albritton said that he thinks the bill in its current form would pass, but he said the vote would be “very, very close.” “It’ll depend on several factors that I’m trying to get a handle on,” he said. 

There is still time for the bill to progress in the Senate. The coming Tuesday, February 27th will be the seventh meeting day of the legislative session, which can last up to 30 meeting days spread over up to 15 weeks. 

Last week, the House passed the constitutional amendment, HB151, by a vote of 70-32, clearing the 63-vote requirement. The House also passed a companion bill, HB152, that details some specifics about how the constitutional amendment would be implemented.

Sen. Greg Albritton

The supporters of the plan say that vote is long overdue, and that the legislation would replace an inconsistent set of gambling amendments with a uniform law. The plan would establish the Alabama Gaming Commission to license and regulate casinos and sports betting.

The commission would include a law enforcement body that could prohibit what proponents say is widespread illegal gambling, which they say causes harm and provides no benefit to the state.

Meanwhile, cited the Legislative Services Agency, which estimated that the state could receive up to about $900 million a year in net revenues from the lottery, casinos, and sports betting.

On the other hand, opponents of the bill have said that it would lead to more gambling addictions that hurt families. They have also disapproved of the way the legislation picks locations for the casinos.

The proposed constitutional amendment enables the commission to license up to seven casinos. The companion bill designates where six of those would be located – Birmingham, Mobile County, Macon County, Greene County, Lowndes County, and Houston County. 

The seventh casino would be in northeast Alabama and be operated by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. That would be based on the governor reaching an agreement with the Poarch Creeks that would also allow the tribe to provide a complete range of casino games at its casinos in Atmore, Wetumpka, and Montgomery. These locations already include electronic bingo devices that operate similarly to slot machines. This implies Alabama would have a total of ten casinos.

The legislation would also create a public corporation to run a state lottery, which could also include multi-state games and scratch-off games. Under the plan, the legislature would appropriate net revenue from the lottery for education purposes and the casino and sports betting revenue for non-education purposes.

A similar plan was sponsored by Albritton three years ago, although the legislation died in the House. However, some of the membership has changed since then.

This year’s legislation came after an ad hoc committee created by House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, spent more than a year researching the concerns. The bills are sponsored by Rep. Chris Blackshear, R-Phenix City.