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House GOP caucus to discuss gambling bill today

The Alabama House Republican Caucus meets this morning to talk gambling. 

A group of Alabama House members who last year began studying illegal gambling in the state and possible legislative fixes will present some of their findings and suggestions for a bill in the session that starts Feb. 6.

No bill has been filed yet.

“For decades, all forms of illegal gaming have flourished in Alabama,” Rep. Andy Whitt, R-Harvest, told Alabama Daily News on Tuesday. Whitt, a leader in this ad hoc group looking at what lottery and gambling legislation might, finally, pass the House. Last summer, he road-tripped through the state visiting illegal casinos.

“It is my hope that fellow legislators will recognize this massive problem and finally tackle the issue,” Whitt told Alabama Daily News on Tuesday. “Simply doing nothing is no longer an option. It is the wild west and it needs to be stopped.”

Expanding legal gambling and allowing for the sale of interstate lottery tickets would also be a money maker for the state. A lottery would require a constitutional amendment put before voters. If lawmakers pass a bill in the upcoming session, it could be on the November ballot when turnout will be high for the presidential election.

Some groups are gearing up to fight any expansion of gambling in the 2024 session. The Alabama Policy Institute last month released a study detailing its position on why expanded gambling is problematic for the state and its future. API President Stephanie Smith said the goal was to “set the record straight on the perils and exaggerations associated with bringing more gambling to our state” so that state lawmakers are aware of “the realities of expanding gambling opportunities to generate supposedly ‘free money.’”

House Speaker Pro Tem Chris Pringle, R-Mobile, said Tuesday it will be the enabling legislation — the bill that outlines authority and enforcement of any lottery and gambling bill — that he’ll be interested in most. Lawmakers have one chance to get this right, he said.

“We can’t legalize it and then come back and fix it,” Pringle said. “You have to have the leash on that beast before you let it out of the cage, otherwise you’ll never get it back.

“We don’t want to be in the position we are in with the medical marijuana situation.”

He’s referring to the troubled process over the last year to issue state licenses to companies who want to grow, make, transport or sell marijuana products under a 2021 law. That legislation left the distribution of the licenses up to a new state commission.

“We need to know who’s going to be doing what, who’s going to be controlling what,” Pringle said.

Gambling bills have become regular features of legislative sessions. Most recently in 2021, a comprehensive bill legalizing a lottery, casinos and sports betting passed the Senate, but got bogged down in the House, where lawmakers couldn’t agree on the final details.

Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Atmore, sponsored that bill and after its defeat said the ball was in the House’s court.

“I’m waiting to see what the House brings forward,” he told ADN Tuesday about possible gambling bills. “My preference is that the House start this process and have this debate so that we can feel comfortable about voting on it again in the Senate. We don’t want to get into an effort of futility.” 

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