By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
A plan being promoted by Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) to use a lottery and casinos at the four existing dog tracks to provide funding for Alabama’s troubled General fund in lieu of tax increases received a favorable report from the Senate Tourism and Marketing Committee on a 5 to 3 vote. Senate Democrats supported the favorable report on Marsh’s SB453.
SB453 is a proposed constitutional amendment that would establish an Alabama Lottery, regulated Class III gaming at racetracks where pari-mutuel wagering is currently legal (Birmingham, Mobile, Shorter, and Greene County), establish a 14 percent state gross receipts tax, a tax on vendors of gaming equipment, and create a Alabama Lottery and Gaming Commission to regulate and administer gaming. The bill would also authorize Governor Robert Bentley (R) to negotiate a compact with Poarch Band of Creek Indians who already have electronic bingo facilities in Atmore, Montgomery and Wetumpka.
Opponents of gambling spoke at the public hearing. They argued that the social costs of expanding gaming are not justified by the benefits and revenues. Nationally gaming has been oversaturated for years. The Poarch Band of Creek Indians also spoke in opposition to the bill.
The vote to approve the proposal puts it in line for consideration by the full Senate next week.
The vote by three Republicans against the proposed constitutional amendment is ominous because approval requires a three-fifths vote of both the State Senate and the House of Representatives. The Speaker of the House of Representatives Mike Hubbard is backing another plan that would give the Poarch Creeks a gaming monopoly in exchange for a $250 million one time fee and taxes on future Indian gaming. Other legislators support right sizing the state budget without raising taxes or using a hastily negotiated gambling deal to prop up the General Fund. Governor Bentley has been jetting around the state for months promoting massive tax increases and has been skeptical of the Marsh plan. Nobody in the legislature has publicly endorsed Bentley’s $541 million tax package.
If somehow SB453 gets out of the legislature it still would have to face a vote of the people in September.
Sen. Harri Anne Smith (I-Slocumb) is demanding that any gaming bill include a Houston County facility. Smith wrote on Facebook, “Report from Committee……Politics as usual …Republican.Del Marsh’s Gaming bill came out of committee without an amendment adding Houston Co. Go Figure! It was a bad bill to start with filled with “SPECIAL INTEREST LOCATIONS”. When you start with a bill that only allows certain facilities in the State it can’t help but have been a special interest bill. Senator Marsh Voice Voted the addition of Houston County and it was evident that the votes were there to add Houston Co. but Senator Marsh had a plan and it didn’t include Houston Co. When you have a Super Majority and you are the leader and the sponsor of the bill that is what happens. I am DONE WITH THIS ISSUE……IF ANYONE THINKS THAT HOUSTON CO. WILL EVER BE ADDED IT WOULD BE A MIRICLE.”
Smith said, “Senator Marsh says he is coming back with a bill to set up a gaming commission that will select the locations with an application process……yea right….Do you really believe they will appoint the members to that commission that are not going to do what the leadership wants. I guess I am just frustrated today with the fact that POLITICS IN MONTGOMERY WITH THE LEADERSHIP THAT IS IN CONTROL NOW, IS NO BETTER THAN WHAT WE HAVE HAD IN THE PAST.”
Sen. Marsh says an Alabama lottery and casino gaming would create a $1.2 billion annual economic impact for the State of Alabama, and generate almost $400 million in new revenue for State programs. Marsh claims that his bill would lead to 11,000 new jobs in Mobile, Birmingham, Macon and Greene County.
Marsh bases these claims on a study conducted by the Institute for Accountability and Government Efficiency at Auburn University of Montgomery (AUM).
Sen. Marsh said in a statement, “These two ideas will generate hundreds of millions of new dollars for State programs at a time when essential government services may be cut. And 11,000 new jobs that will positively impact families throughout our State.”
The AUM study predicts that an Alabama lottery will generate $332 million annually for State programs, while casino gaming, which would allow Class III gaming like table games and slot machines, would generate an additional $74 million. The projected casino revenue is based upon proceeds taxed at a combined state and local rate of 15 percent. The State’s share, based upon a state tax rate of 14 percent, would be $64 million.
Marsh said, “At a time when we are talking about either massive budgets cuts or higher taxes, this is certainly something we need to take a look at and consider.”
There are only 8 days left in the legislative session.