By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Early on Friday, August 26, a jubilant Governor Robert Bentley (R) said, “We came out with a victory from the House, not us, but a victory for the people of this state.” That Bentley and Bentley’s staff have absolutely no idea what is happening in in the Alabama legislature, could not be any more obvious than at that moment.
While the Governor was taking his victory lap after midnight with the exhausted capital press corps, Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) and lottery bill sponsor, Senator Jim McClendon (R-Springville), were desperately trying to find a plan to save the lottery.
While the House had been debating the lottery bill for nearly eleven hours, the Senate had been hanging around waiting to act. The first indication that things had gone wrong was when the Senate failed to non-concur with the House and appoint a conference committee to resolve the issues between the two versions of the bill. Instead both bodies went home while the leadership met trying to figure out what to do next.
The bill that passed the House, Senate Bill 3 (SB3), was going to be problematic, at best, in the Senate. Some were using the words “dead on arrival.” Lottery opponents in the House had proved enough muscle to delay the bill for two days past the deadline for it to even be on the November 8 ballot; had three times blocked cloture motions by lottery supporters to shut off debate, and even had enough strength to vote the whole thing down. It took a second vote in which three legislators changed their vote to yes for the measure to pass by the slimmest of margins.
To get any kind of a lottery bill out of the House, Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R-Madison) and the State Representative Alan Harper (R-Northport) who carried it in the House had had to make all kinds of deals to accept amendments from legislators who were skeptical of any lottery in the first place. To get the bill out of the Senate, McClendon had had to make it a much simpler bill. His preferred lottery bill, SB11, had been shot down.
SB3 was the compromise position that passed on August 19 with not a single vote to spare. If any of his 21 Senators defected, the lottery (which as a constitutional amendment takes a 3/5s majority for passage would be dead. To make matters worse many State Representatives had been trying to add “poison pills” to the bill to make it impossible to pass the Senate.
State Representative Connie Rowe’s (R-Jasper) definition of “lottery’ may have been that amendment that brought everything crashing down.
On Friday, Speaker McCutcheon denied that the Rowe amendment was a poison pill when directly asked by one reporter, but while he was speaking with reporters, Senators were upstairs killing SB3.
Rowe had defined “lottery” as being paper only. Modern lotteries, like modern bingo, are increasingly played on machines, computers and hand held devices. If the legislators put a definition of lottery that restricted it to paper tickets in the Alabama Constitution; then an Alabama lottery could find itself becoming increasingly obsolete as older less sophisticated lottery players died off. Also certain influential gambling interests had hoped a lottery would mean that the dog tracks could do some sort of a deal in the yet to be written enabling legislation or with the yet to be appointed Lottery Commission for virtual lotter machines (VLMs). VLMs has been included in SB11. Rowe’s definition ended any illusion that VLMs would be allowed anywhere ever.
Worse, Governor Bentley’s reported talks with the Poarch Creek Band of Indians (PCI) had scared many legislators. While Bentley called the original reporting by Alabama Political Reporter editor Bill Britt an “Outright lie” and said that he has never negotiated with the Poarch Creeks and never will; very few in the legislature believed Bentley. State Representative Barbara Boyd (D-Anniston) and Steve McMillan (R from had separately offered amendments to SB3 requiring that any compacts that the Governor negotiates with PCI be ratified by the legislature. Boyd’s amendment, when a motion was made to reintroduce it by Rep. Christopher John England (D-Tuscaloosa) narrowly missed being part of SB3. That could have been the moment that the lottery came crashing down.
A lottery is class III gaming. The electronic bingo that Greenetrack and the PCI casinos play is class II.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, tribes like the Poarch Creek, can offer any gaming that anyone else is allowed to play in the state. If the State of Alabama started selling lottery tickets (Class III gaming) then the Indians could apply to federal authorities to allow their casinos in Wetumpka and Atmore to go to Class III gaming. This would give the Indians an enormous competitive advantage over Greenetrack, Victoryland, and the Birmingham Racecourse. With the lottery ban window in the 1901 Constitution lifted, and with the legislature unable to modify or stop the Governor from negotiating with the Poarch Creeks, it was too much for Black Democrats to stand and so they went from supporting SB3 to filibustering it, led by Senator Bobby Singleton (D from Greensboro). Now the most staunchly pro-gambling people in the Alabama legislature, became last minute opponents of the lottery bill.
Senators McClendon and Marsh wanted to concur with the House changes to SB3, knowing that Speaker McCutcheon did not have the votes to pass anything again in the House if the Senate stripped the bill of any of its troubling amendments. On Friday, the Senate had taken two and a half hours in recesses with McClendon and Marsh trying to find 21 votes to concur with the House. As the Senate was preparing to resume debate, the House decided to adjourn until September 6 meaning that a conference committee was no longer a viable option. Black Democrats joined with conservative Republicans in voting to non-concur with the House bill.
The final dagger was delivered by Senator Trip Pittman (R-Montrose) who made a motion for the Senate to reconsider SB3. He then motioned for his reconsider motion to be carried over effectively ending the lottery bill for the Special Session.
Sponsor Jim McClendon said that on Friday, formidable special interests combined forces to kill a bill that had passed the Senate (21 out of 35) and passed the House (64 out of 102).