By MARY SELL and MADDISON BOOTH, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – There are now two separate lottery and gambling bills awaiting votes in the Alabama House and Senate but each still faces tough odds in the remaining days of this legislative session.
The House Economic Development and Tourism Committee on Thursday morning voted to advance the recently introduced House Bill 501 to allow for lottery ticket sales. This bill does not have the gambling expansion provisions that are in a competing Senate bill.
“I don’t know if there’s an appetite right now in the House for full-blown gaming bills,” said State Rep. Brown, R-Hollingers Island, who sponsored the bill. “By bringing the lottery, I’ve listened to my fellow members of the legislature and to the public.”
Revenue from the lottery ticket sales would support education efforts, including scholarships and student loan repayment grants. The fiscal note estimates a lottery would generate $198 million to $285 million per year. Brown’s proposal does not include casinos or sports betting. While some have called for a “straight lottery” bill, those have previously failed to pass the Legislature in recent years.
“My goal on this is not to interfere with any gaming enterprises … (it’s) strictly a lottery,” Brown said Thursday.
Brown noted that every state around Alabama has a lottery.
“Alabamians are playing the lottery,” he said. “We’ve been playing it for years.”
The committee approved the lottery plan on voice votes, lining it up for consideration in the House after next week’s legislative spring break. Two Democrats on the committee, Neil Rafferty, D-Birmingham, and Rolanda Hollis, D-Birmingham, abstained. Brown agreed to discuss later with Rafferty his concerns about “equity in spending” in the bill.
Meanwhile, the Senate has yet to vote on a multi-faceted proposal from Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Range, to allow a lottery and expand gambling in the state. Albritton on Thursday said Brown’s legislation was at least part of the reason his has stalled.
“They’ve been telling us it’s too late (to pass a lottery bill), not this year,” Albritton said about his House counterparts. “Then they drop this. It was a surprise to everyone.”
He said the Senate will wait to see if Browns’ legislation has a chance in the House.
Albritton also said he’s been playing “whack-a-mole” with issues on his bill, including concerns about its scope. His constitutional amendment authorizes a state lottery, sports betting, eight full casinos with slots and table games and two smaller gambling sites that could have up to 300 slot machines each.
“The biggest problem is fear,” he said about issues with his bill.
During a public hearing Thursday morning, Joe Godfrey of the Alabama Citizens Action Program said it is poor people who buy lottery tickets and said the government through lotteries is deceiving people out of their money.
Both bills would require voter approval, which would happen on the November general election ballot.
Rep. Barry Forte, D-Eufaula, said he rides his bike three miles to the Georgia line to buy a lottery ticket.
“It’s time for the citizens of this state to decide whether they want a lottery or not,” Forte said.
Time is not on Albritton or Brown’s side. Lawmakers are taking a spring break next week. When they return to Montgomery March 29 they will have seven possible legislative days remaining to pass bills in this session. While that is enough time to pass bills, it presents a challenge.
“Anytime you get down this close to the end of session, you get into a bottleneck,” Albritton said. “…We’re going into the crazy time.”