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Senator: ‘Rocky road’ ahead for lottery bill

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

The sponsor of legislation to create a paper lottery in Alabama says getting the bill to final passage may be difficult.

“It’s a rocky road between here and there,” Sen. Greg Albritton told Alabama Daily News.

The House Economic Development and Tourism Committee is expected to vote on Senate Bill 220 Wednesday afternoon.

Albritton said amendments made last week in that committee have cost it some support in the Senate, where it passed last month with 21 votes. That’s the minimum needed for a proposed constitutional amendment. Any alterations to the bill made in the House would need to be approved in the Senate.

“With the changes they made (in the House committee), I’ve already lost three to four votes that I had,” Albritton said. “I’m not sure where I’m going to make it up.”

As passed in the Senate, money made from the lottery would pay off state debt and get deposited in the General Fund, which supports non-education departments and agencies.

The House committee amended the bill to send 75 percent of revenue to the General Fund and 25 percent to the education budget. The Senate previously rejected an attempt to put lottery dollars toward education.

Albritton said there was also some “word-smithing” added to the bill that makes him uncomfortable, he said.

Albritton’s proposal allows for Alabamians to participate in multi-state lotteries such as Mega Millions and Power Ball.

Lawmakers who’s districts include dog track casinos have said they’re worried about the bill’s impact on those facilities and claimed the paper-only lottery would benefit the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.

A different lottery proposal in the Senate would have given the state’s four dog tracks access to the electronic gambling machines the federally-recognized Poarch Creeks currently have at their Atmore, Montgomery and Wetumpka casinos. That bill has not advanced.

Robert McGhee, vice-chairman of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, told Alabama Daily News that the tribe is supportive of Albritton’s bill but was not involved in its drafting.

He said the paper ticket-only proposal has the best chance of passage and lottery proposals that add electronic gambling or other carveouts for specific counties have fallen apart in the past.

“If you’re going to try to expand gaming, it needs to be properly regulated,” McGhee said. “You need a state gaming commission.”

Also, Albritton’s bill doesn’t get the Poarch Creeks any closer to a compact with the state.

A compact for exclusive gaming rights in the state could let the tribe expand its casino offerings to table games and a fourth casino in northeast Alabama. That agreement would be worth more revenue to the state than the current lottery proposal, McGhee said.

“The Poarch Creek would like to sit down and discuss a compact,” McGhee said. “… We’ve always been willing to sit down to talk about what is good for the state of Alabama and what is good for the Poarch Creek.”

Gov. Kay Ivey “hasn’t shut the door” on conversations about a compact, McGhee said.

Ivey’s office did not comment on whether she’s open to that possibility.

“We’re not going to issue an official statement on that at this time,” spokeswoman Lori Jhons said recently.

But Albritton said compact conversations have already happened and he doesn’t support expanding gambling in the state.

“There is no movement because there are too many hands in the pie,” Albritton said.

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