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Lottery, gambling expansion bills filed in Senate

By MARY SELL and MADDISON BOOTH, Alabama Daily News

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Bills introduced Thursday in the Alabama Senate would let Alabamians vote to have a statewide lottery and create a state commission to expand, regulate and tax casino-style gambling and sports betting.

Senate Bill 293, a constitutional amendment, and Senate Bill 294, which has more of the details of the would-be law, could get their first votes in a Senate committee on Tuesday and votes by the full chamber later next week.

This year’s legislative session is about two-thirds complete, putting the proposal on a tight timeline, but Albritton said lawmakers can pass it if they’re so motivated.

“We have plenty of time to get this done,” he said. “We have the votes, I believe, in the House, and we have the votes in the Senate.”

Under the legislation, a new Alabama Education Lottery and Gambling Commission would:

  • Limit the number of licensed casinos to five locations and would give licenses to existing dog tracks in Greene, Jefferson and Mobile counties and VictoryLand in Macon County.
  • Require the Alabama governor to negotiate a compact with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians that allows for casino-style gambling and sports betting at its sites. The fifth casino site would be part of that compact and located in either DeKalb or Jackson counties.
  • Put a 20% tax on the net gambling revenues for casinos and sports betting.

Albritton said he’s anticipating committee amendments and floor amendments in both chambers.

He estimates a lottery that would allow Alabamians to buy Powerball and other contest tickets would bring in $160 million to $225 million per year. Revenue would flow to a new “Alabama Education Lottery Trust Fund,” that lawmakers would distribute annually. Nearly 99% of yearly proceeds “shall be appropriated for a scholarship or other program to support educational attainment or fulfillment of the state’s workforce needs,” according to the constitutional amendment legislation.

Unclaimed lottery prizes would be spent on K-12 schools the state considers failing.

Gambling revenue could be worth $750 million to $800 million per year, Albritton said. Senate Bill 294 says that money would be distributed to mental health services (30%), broadband expansion efforts (20%), rural health care (20%), road and bridge projects (15%) and state parks and historical sites (5%).

Albritton says his intent is that lawmakers could change that distribution in the future.

“We’re trying to address the needs that we have now, but have the flexibility to deal with other things as they develop,” he told Alabama Daily News.

Albritton has called Alabama the “wild west” on the issue of gambling because of the inconsistent enforcement of gambling laws over the years. Former Gov. Bob Riley cracked down on so-called electronic bingo casinos in the late 2000s, but since then major operators have continued without much resistance from law enforcement.

“Alabama has no benefit from all of these activities, and yet we’re still suffering the consequences of them,” he said.

Albritton has argued recently that Alabamians want a lottery and are already gambling in ways that are unregulated and untaxed by the state.

The state of New York recently reported that it has taken in nearly $80 million in revenue since early January when it legalized online sports betting.

There are a possible 12 legislative days left in this session, technically more than enough time to pass a bill. But previous gambling bills have passed the Senate and run out of time in the more splintered and leery House of Representatives.

Last year, the Alabama Senate approved a wide ranging gambling plan that included a state lottery, expanded casino operations and legalized sports betting.

If approved by the Legislature, the measure would go before voters in the November general election and Albritton said lawmakers should consider public support for it an election year issue.

“All polling points that way,” Albritton told Alabama Daily News.

In an early 2020 poll of 625 registered Alabama voters for Alabama Daily News, 80% of respondents said they support a lottery. Eleven percent were opposed to it and 9% were undecided.

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