Published: May 5, 2021, 06: 23 h.
Last updated: 5 May, 2021, 06: 23 h.
A resurgent, cross-party push to establish a lottery and expand casino gaming in Alabama will go to a vote in the House of Representatives on Thursday, the last day of the session.
On Tuesday, the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee moved SB 319 after an hour-long public hearing. The bill was passed by the Senate several weeks ago.
Alabama is one of only five states - along with Nevada, Utah, Alaska and Hawaii - that do not have a lottery. In addition to providing one, the bill would also legalize nine full-service casinos with slot machines, table games and sports betting.
The Legislative Services Agency estimates the bill could generate as much as 710 million a year in new taxes. The money would go to state programs such as education, high-speed Internet access development, health care, mental health care and more.
If approved by the House, it would have to be ratified by Alabamans in a public referendum, likely in November 2022, which would amend the state constitution.
Montgomery Advertiser reports that Tuesday's hearing was dominated by opponents of the bill, and not just those for whom gambling was unsavory or immoral. There were also representatives from communities that rely on revenue from small gambling operations, such as bingo halls.
Charlie McAlpine, mayor of Forkville, a city in Greene County, complained that the county's "entire economic structure" was threatened by the proposed gambling expansion.
Greene County, specifically the existing greyhound track in Eutaw, is one of the previously designated sites that the bill provides for six new commercial casinos. The others include three other dog tracks in the state in Birmingham, Macon County and Mobile and at an existing bingo facility in Dothan.
The sixth would be in DeKalb County or Jackson County in northeastern Alabama at the site chosen by the only federally recognized tribe, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.
Poarch Creek Extension
The legalization of commercial gaming also allow Poarch Creeks to offer Class III casino games at their reservation gaming facilities. That's subject to the state's Republican governor, Kay Ivey, being able to negotiate a deal with the tribe.
The bill would establish the Alabama Gaming Commission to oversee lotteries, casinos, sports betting and bingo. It would make illegal gambling a felony rather than a misdemeanor.
"Our people drive across state lines to gamble and buy lottery tickets, and those neighboring states collect the revenue and benefit directly from Alabamians' pockets, " said Senator Del Marsh (R - 12, a driving force behind the legislation in the Senate.
"This is revenue that can be used to fund countless desperately needed projects for our state and improve the quality of life for those who live here."