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Lottery bill faces uncertain fate as it heads to House

By KIM CHANDLER, Associated Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — After clearing the state Senate without a vote to spare, a proposal to establish a state lottery in Alabama faces an uncertain outlook in the House of Representatives.

House members are seeking changes to the bill including how the state will use lottery revenue. The bill is also expected to face opposition from some Republicans opposed to legalizing gambling as well as those who want to change the bill to allow electronic gambling machines.

“I think it will be very, very close,” said Rep. Steve Clouse, who is handling the bill in the House. “It was as close as you can get in the Senate and probably as close as you get in the House.”

The Senate-passed bill authorizes a lottery played with paper tickets, including instant tickets and multi-state lottery games. It would not allow video lottery terminals, which can resemble slot machines.

One disputed issue is how to use the estimated $166 million annual proceeds from a state lottery.

The bill approved by the Senate would use the money to repay money the state borrowed in 2012 from a state savings account to prevent budget cuts. After that was repaid, the money would be divided between the state general fund — which pays for non-education state services such as prisons, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program — and state savings accounts.

Clouse, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, said he believes the money should go to the state’s perpetually cash-strapped general fund. He said the state is ahead of schedule in repaying the 2012 debt, but faces looming needs in prisons and Medicaid. He said they are working on a substitute bill.

Clouse said the bill will also face opposition from other members against legalized gambling or who want to allow video lottery terminals called VLT’s.

Sen. Greg Albritton, the bill’s sponsor, is concerned any changes will peel off support in the Senate, where the bill passed with the minimum 21 required votes. Any House changes will have to return to the Senate.

“I wish I know where we stood. This may be deja vu all over again,” Albritton said, referring to lottery legislation that failed in the Alabama Senate in 2016 after House changes to the bill.

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh said he has been discussing the situation with House leadership and how changes might impact Senate support.

“You saw how close that vote was up here and there are certain individuals that if something changes I think I lose that vote,” Marsh said.

Alabama is one of five states — along with Utah, Alaska, Hawaii, and Nevada — without a state lottery. Past attempts to establish a state lottery have failed under a politically fatal mix of conservative opposition to gambling and feuds over electronic gambling.

“Everyone around us has it and it’s very hard to explain to people in your Sunday School class why we don’t have it here,” Clouse said.

Alabama voters last went to the polls on the idea of a lottery in 1999, when they rejected a lottery proposed by then-Gov. Don Siegelman. Former Gov. Robert Bentley in 2016 called for a state lottery in response to a state budget crisis, but the measure failed to get out of the Legislature.

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