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Op-Ed: It’s time we let the people decide the fate of gambling in Alabama

By State Representative Andy Whitt

Gambling is illegal in the state of Alabama, but let’s face the facts: our weak, confusing laws are not stopping Alabamians from participating or bad actors from profiting. 

Over the course of the last year, I visited 21 counties and well over 40 illegal facilities and gained a first-hand perspective of what is going on right under our noses. What I found was not just surprising – it was downright frightening. I knew we had a problem here, but I would have never guessed we have hundreds of illegal facilities spread across all 67 counties. Some were well hidden in back rooms of florists, restaurants, gas stations and other so-called “businesses.” But many were out in the open with prominent signage and advertising as if owners were proud to break the law. This makes you ask yourself, “How are these criminals so bold?” 

The answer is both simple and disappointing: In a state where we are proud to enforce the letter of the law, this is an area where the law is about as good as a screen door on a submarine. 

In the upcoming legislative session, I will co-sponsor legislation to finally put an end to these organized crime rings in our state. 

But before I do, I want to make something abundantly clear: Despite what a few special interest groups will try to say, this bill IS NOT an expansion of gambling in the state of Alabama. In fact, the most significant result of the legislation will be the elimination of some 500 illegal gaming sites in Alabama. It will run bad actors out of our state and lock up the ones who try to come back. So, I ask, if you are anti-gaming, wouldn’t you like to shut down the hundreds of illegal facilities that are operating and finally enforce the law? You should also wonder why certain groups, both in-state and out-of-state, have such a strong interest in keeping a broken system in place.

As a state representative, my biggest goal is to ensure that my constituents have a seat at the table in matters that impact their everyday lives. The most important thing to remember about this issue is that it cannot be decided for the people of Alabama by 140 legislators in Montgomery. Instead, 140 legislators can only pass a clean bill that gives our citizens an opportunity to decide for themselves what is best for Alabama’s future. The passage of this bill will result in a constitutional amendment being placed on the November 9th ballot. To be clear, the Legislature cannot amend our state’s constitution; only a vote of the people can.

At the core of a functioning republic is an informed and engaged electorate. There’s much more to this issue than I can lay out for you here. So, don’t take my word for it – study the problem and decide for yourself what the best solution is. Read the bill when it becomes available in a few weeks. Unlike some, my only agenda here is to arm you with the truth to make an informed decision.  

The fact of the matter is you have not been allowed to vote on this issue in 25 years. Whatever side you fall on, let your state representative and senator know that you want to exercise your right.  

Rep. Whitt, R-Harvest, represents House District 6 in the Alabama Legislature. 

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