By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Polls routinely show us that most people in Alabama favor having a lottery of some sort; but there is huge disagreement on the details and where that money should go. Four of the twelve legislative days in this Special Session have been burned up and no lottery bill has yet to pass on the floor of either House as opposition to the lottery as presented is only growing stronger and support for a lottery to bail out the General Fund is rapidly evaporating.
Alabama Citizens Action Program (ALCAP) Executive Director Joe Godfrey posted a picture showing State Senator Paul Bussman (opposed) debating Sen. Gerald Dial (supporting) on SB11 (lottery and electronic lottery terminals in 4 dog tracks throughout the State, a.k.a. “slot machines”).
Godfrey said that he was, “Grateful for Sen. Bussman and others who are opposing gambling expansion in Alabama.”
After Thursday’s action, Senator Jim McClendon (R-Springville) said, “UPDATE on allowing you to vote on a lottery: My first bill, Senate Bill 11 was effectively killed today.”
However Sen. McClendon promised, “THE FAT LADY HASN’T BEGUN TO SING YET. My second lottery bill, SB3, a much simpler, less complex version will be before the Senate for debate tomorrow, Friday.”
Sen. McClendon said to his friends and followers on Facebook, ‘It is my commitment to you, the voters, to do everything I can to allow you to make the final decision on having an AL lottery. Some lawmakers just don’t trust your judgement. Thanks for all the support you have given me.”
State Senator Paul L. Sanford (R-Huntsville) said, “A bad lottery bill failed today, but tomorrow brings another lottery bill. With a few amendments we will see what happens to it.”
Godfrey wrote, “SB11, Sen. McClendon’s lottery/’slot machine’ bill, has failed to pass the Senate. Appears to be ‘dead’ for this Special Session. We now expect the Governor’s ‘pure lottery’ bill to come up for debate. We still need for everyone to contact your State Senator urging a “NO” vote on SB3.”
Godfrey said, “Sen. Dial stated that Georgia Lottery was a huge success, but look at this article from the Alabama Policy Institute from last year…’Between 1994 and 2013, residents in the ten poorest counties in Georgia spent an average of $351 per person on lottery tickets, compared to $196 per person in the state’s ten wealthiest counties. Not only do the poor in Georgia spend more on lottery tickets, they receive less educational aid from lottery funds than their wealthier neighbors. Since 1994, students in the ten wealthiest counties received an average of 41 cents back per dollar in some form of education benefit for every dollar spent on the lottery in their counties. By comparison, the poorest counties received only 26 cents.’”
Godfrey said, “When Sen. Bussman mentioned the failure of one state to pay its lottery winners because they didn’t have the money to do so, Sen. Dial became defensive and argued that you can’t compare Alabama to that state because of all the corruption in that particular state. Fact is that if we expand gambling in Alabama, we will become more like such states! Is that really what we want in Alabama?!”
Sen. Bill Holtzclaw (R-Madison) wrote, “Throughout three days of debate on SB11 (the only lottery bill we’ve debated in the Senate until today) I kept hearing from lottery supporters that this was “a simple choice” and that we “need to let the people vote on a clean bill”. Well after studying the bill extensively, fact is, this was far from a simple/clean bill. A push was made to vote on the bill today rather than continue to work through the litany of challenges in the bill. Some thought today’s procedural vote on SB11 was a vote on whether or not a legislator supported a lottery. I maintain that today’s vote was on whether or not a legislator supported BAD Legislation.”
Former Republican Party Chairman Bill Armistead wrote in a guest column in the Alabama Political Reporter, “State lotteries are nothing more than a hidden tax on the poor and they are more likely to become addicted to gambling than those in a higher income bracket. Studies have shown that those addicted to gambling spend about 9 percent of their take-home income from households making less than $13,000 a year.”
Sen. Holtzclaw said that SB11, “Was not a simple lottery bill. This was a complex lottery bill that expanding electronic gaming.”
Holtzclaw did say that there was, “Some good news for those that support a lottery, after SB11 was set aside the Senate began debate on SB3, the Governor’s much simpler lottery proposal. Some headway was made and portions of SB11 regarding a Lottery Commission were salvaged from…or amended into – the much simpler and cleaner lottery bill.’
Armistead wrote, “It is a sad commentary on the leadership of our State when they resort to funding State government on the backs of those who can least afford it. We should be doing all that we can to help the less fortunate who have trouble putting bread on the table. The last thing we need to do is cause them to take bread off the table.”
Today the Senate will bring back Senate Bill 3. There is a growing feeling in the statehouse that no lottery bill is going to pass in this special session; but if SB3 can get through the Senate on Friday; then it could be before the House as soon as Saturday. Proponents of the lottery insist that they need to rush it through by Wednesday, August 24 so that it can be on the November 8 ballot.
That is part of the reason for the growing opposition to the hastily prepared lottery effort. Many Republican politicos are concerned that putting a lottery amendment on the November 8 ballot will only encourage more Democrats to come out and vote.
Jefferson County Republican Party Chair Sallie Bryant wrote recently wrote that a General Election vote on the lottery, “Would be disastrous for Republicans in Jefferson County, as it would drive up Democrat turnout in a year when it is expected to be lower. We’ve already put so much work into this election — not just our incumbents and new candidates who have been out campaigning, but members of our Executive Committee who have spent countless hours organizing and fundraising on their behalf.”
Democrats meanwhile are also opposed to this lottery. Longtime lottery supporters, former Governor Don Siegelman (D) and current House minority leader Craig Ford (D-Gadsden) both have written recently that they do not life the terms of this lottery bill.
Former Governor Siegelman said in a statement, “Today, I am not even sure how much money a lottery would yield, but I do know this, whatever it might raise should go to educate our children and voters should not let the Governor or Alabama Legislature get their hands on a penny of it. So I say, ‘Maybe a lottery, but not this lottery.’”
The Senate could vote on a Governor Bentley’s General Fund lottery as soon as today.