Alabama Senate modifies gambling legislation, excludes casinos and sports betting but keeps lottery

An Alabama Senate committee has given the nod to a scaled-back version of gambling legislation, with approval granted on Tuesday. The bills under consideration seek to authorize a state lottery but exclude provisions for sports betting or full-scale casino games.

This represents a significant departure from the initial legislation approved by the Alabama House on February 15, which included plans for sports betting and the establishment of up to seven new casinos, alongside a state lottery, Advance Local reported.

The revised version has also altered the timeline for voters to decide on the constitutional amendment required to endorse the proposed package. The special election for this purpose is now slated for September 10, diverging from the original plan to coincide with the general election in November.

Senator Greg Albritton, R-Atmore, the bill’s sponsor in the Senate, emphasized that these changes were made strategically to garner sufficient votes for the legislation’s passage. This decision may be linked to concerns about the potential influence of a gaming referendum on Democratic voter turnout.

The Senate Tourism Committee granted approval through voice votes, positioning the legislation for consideration by the Senate. Achieving a three-fifths majority, or 21 out of 35 senators, will be necessary to pass the constitutional amendment.

Should the Senate pass the legislation, it will necessitate a return to the House due to the modifications introduced by the Senate. If an agreement cannot be reached between the two versions, a conference committee will be convened to reconcile the differences.

The proposed legislation establishes a gaming commission with an enforcement division, aiming to streamline the regulation and taxation of gambling in the state. It seeks to repeal local constitutional amendments related to gambling and prevent future ones, concentrating gambling activities in specific counties and locations.

It would limit gambling to the racetracks in Greene, Jefferson, Macon, and Mobile Counties, plus an additional location in Greene County, and at the existing bingo halls in Houston County and in the town of White Hall in Lowndes County.

Those are the things that we’re trying to get started with and capturing that, controlling it, regulating it, getting the enforcement division set up and doing our job as a state to control this industry,” Albritton was quoted as saying in the report.

Pari-mutuel betting on horse and dog racing through simulcasts, as well as betting on historical racing machines, would be permitted. However, electronic bingo and traditional casino games would not be allowed.

The plan also authorizes the governor to engage in negotiations with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, potentially allowing the tribe to offer full-scale casino games at its existing casinos in Atmore, Wetumpka, and Montgomery.

Senator Albritton highlighted that proceeds from the lottery and other gambling activities would contribute to the state General Fund until March 30, 2029. Post that period, the distribution would be divided equally between the education budget, the General Fund, and infrastructure projects.

The exclusion of sports betting from the plan was attributed to concerns about its potential impact on young individuals, Albritton said.

Alabama has been grappling with gaming-related legislation since 1999 when voters rejected a lottery authorization ballot referendum. The state currently maintains strict regulations, lacking commercial and Class III tribal casinos, sports betting, lottery gaming, and iGaming.