By TODD STACY, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The Alabama State Senate on Thursday passed a constitutional amendment calling for a statewide vote on a lottery.
Senate Bill 220, sponsored by Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Atmore, would put the question of establishing a lottery on the ballot in next March’s primary, the nearest statewide election. The plan calls for a paper lottery and allows Alabama to participate in multi-state “Mega Millions” jackpots, among others.
The bill passed 21-12, which was the minimum vote total needed to secure Senate passage. The narrow vote came after more than three hours of intense floor debate and deliberation over amendments.
“I’m pleased, a little surprised, and grateful it’s over,” Albritton said. “I came in fully anticipating this to be a very, very close vote, but we never had 21 votes in our head counts.
“I hope the House takes it as it is. I took a number of amendments, but most of those were supporting the direction we wanted to move.”
Albritton also rejected amendments, including one from Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, attempting to add legal protection for the state’s dog track casinos and the electronic bingo games they offer. Singleton and other senators representing areas with existing dog track casinos argued that, as written, Albritton’s bill gives an unfair advantage to the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, a federally-regulated entity that operates casinos in Atmore, Wetumpka and Montgomery.
Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, is a co-sponsor of the bill and engineered its passage out of committee earlier this week. He said it’s a simpler bill than one offered by Sen. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, which would have allowed “video lottery terminals” at dog tracks in Greene, Lowndes, Jefferson, Macon and Mobile Counties.
“We’ve been working on this bill and talking to people about the lottery issue for some weeks,” Marsh said. “Our job is to get something out that has a chance to get to the people. That was my goal today and I think we did that.”
One amendment that was accepted and became part of the bill was a provision protecting the Birmingham Race Course and its gambling machines. Amendments seeking to protect the other tracks were rejected, and Albritton later explained that only the Birmingham amendment contained language that would limit the expansion of gambling.
If approved, the plan is estimated to generate $166.7 million a year in revenue. The first nearly $184 million would be deposited in the Alabama Trust Fund to repay money borrowed to cover budget shortfalls in 2013, 2014 and 2015. After that, revenue would be split annually between the Alabama Trust Fund and the state’s General Fund budget.
The Alabama Trust Fund was created in 1985 to capture revenues from sales of offshore drilling rights and royalties from natural gas production. Some revenue from the trust fund feeds into the General Fund, which supports non-education state agencies.
“Personally, I think that it is still a bad bill,” Singleton said. He said alternative lottery proposals, including those with electronic components, would generate ‘a lot more’ than $167 million a year in revenue.
“I want the people of the state Alabama to have a lottery. I think they should have the right to vote,” Singleton said. “… But I want the people to vote on something that means something for the state of Alabama and that’s going to do us some good.”
Senate Bill 220 does not allocate any money for education. Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, who chairs the Senate education budget committee, attempted to add an amendment that would have allocated 25 percent of the revenues to education. His amendment was rejected on a voice vote.
“I believe it’s important to fund education out of lottery proceeds because, presumably, we will be losing sales tax revenue from what will now be spent on lottery tickets,” said Orr, who voted against the bill. “Also, I believe the proceeds should not be sent to the Alabama Trust Fund. Cities and counties get 20 percent of the revenues coming from the Alabama Trust Fund, and I don’t believe they should be sharing in lottery proceeds.”
Sen. Larry Stutts, R-Tuscumbia, spoke against the bill on the Senate floor, arguing that state lotteries are effectively a tax on the poor.
“Lotteries prey on the poor,” Stutts said. “There is substantial data that shows the majority of the people who buy lottery tickets are those who can least afford to do so.
“I understand this is about raising revenue, but our budgets have record revenue. How much money does the state of Alabama need?”
Sen. Dan Roberts, R-Mountain Brook, also spoke against the bill on the Senate floor, opposing state-sponsored lotteries on moral and economic grounds.
“It’s a fool’s errand,” he said. “This system is built on the necessity that most people lose. That’s how we’re funding this thing… We’re teaching citizens of our state to be foolish with their money.”
Many senators argued that Alabama citizens are already buying lottery tickets in surrounding states and that Alabama is missing out on that revenue.
McClendon voted against the bill, but later said that his constituents want a chance to vote on a lottery bill, so he will not oppose it moving forward.
“When I got into this lottery business, my entire goal was to make it so my constituents wouldn’t have to drive down Interstate 20 to Georgia to buy lottery tickets,” McClendon said. “Ultimately, that’s what this bill will do, and that’s good.”
Others argued that, while they didn’t necessarily want a lottery, they believed giving the people of Alabama the chance to vote on it was the right thing to do.
Sen. Tim Melson, R-Florence, said he would personally oppose it on the ballot, but had committed to giving the people the right to vote.
“When I ran the first time, I told people I would let them vote on a lottery,” Melson said. “Personally, I’ll vote against it on the ballot, but I said I would let the people vote.”
The legislation now goes to the House of Representatives, where opponents pledged to continue the fight.
“We are greatly disappointed in the outcome,” said Joe Godfrey, executive director of the Alabama Citizens Action Program, which lobbies on behalf of a statewide network of churches.
“We’ll now focus our attention on the House and we’ll be asking our members to contact their representatives to communicate their opposition,” Godfrey said.
How they voted
- Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Atmore
- Sen. Will Barfoot, R-Montgomery
- Sen. Clyde Chambliss, R-Prattville
- Sen. Donnie Chesteen, R-Geneva
- Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison, D-Birmingham
- Sen. Chris Elliot, R-Daphne
- Sen. Garlan Gudger, R-Cullman
- Sen. Andrew Jones, R-Gadsden
- Sen. Steve Livingston, R-Scottsboro
- Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston
- Sen. Tim Melson, R-Florence
- Sen. Randy Price, R-Opelika
- Sen. Greg Reed, R-Jasper
- Sen. Clay Scofield, R-Guntersville
- Sen. David Sessions, R-Mobile
- Sen. Shay Shelnutt, R-Trussville
- Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham
- Sen. Jabo Waggoner, R-Vestavia Hills
- Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster
- Sen. Tom Whatley, R-Auburn
- Sen. Jack Williams, R-Mobile
- Sen. Gerald Allen, R-Tuscaloosa
- Sen. Billy Beasley, D-Clayton
- Sen. David Burkette, D-Montgomery
- Sen. Tom Butler, R-Huntsville
- Sen. Vivian Figures, D-Mobile
- Sen. Sam Givhan, R-Huntsville
- Sen. Jim McClendon, R-Springville
- Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur
- Sen. Dan Roberts, R-Mountain Brook
- Sen. Malika Sanders-Fortier, D-Selma
- Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro
- Sen. Larry Stutts, R-Tuscumbia
Not voting or Not present
- Sen. Jimmy Holley, R-Elba
- Sen. Priscilla Dunn, D-Birmingham
Alabama Daily News reporter Caroline Beck contributed to this story.