By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Tuesday, April 18, 2017, the Alabama House of Representatives voted to pass a highly controversial bill to exempt fantasy sports from the State’s anti-gambling laws, but only after it was much modified on the floor of the House.
House Bill 354 was sponsored by State Representative Alan Boothe (R-Troy). Boothe’s mother died, so he was unable to attend the legislature to carry his own bill. The bill was carried in his place by State Representative Ron Johnson (R-Sylacauga).
The bill was written in response to an opinion by then Attorney General Luther Strange (R) that stated that daily fantasy sports where players bet on statistics of sports athletes are gambling and thus are prohibited by state law. The two largest corporations involved in this business: Fan Duel and Draft Kings have been lobbying legislators to pass a bill negating that AG’s opinion.
State Representative Craig Ford (D-Gadsden) said, “This is gambling. If you want to pass a gambling bill pass a gambling bill.”
Rep. Johnson said that HB354 would not include college or high school sports. 700,000 people in Alabama were playing this when AG Strange issued his Attorney General’s opinion.
Rep. Rich Wingo (R-Tuscaloosa) said, “Do you want your name associated with this?”
The State of Nevada has outlawed this. This has been called it the crack cocaine of gambling.
Some states totally outlaw it. What does this do to our state? These companies make $4.6 billion a year. The New York Attorney General said that they are no different than bookies.
Wingo said to Johnson, “This is going to be your legacy. This is gong to be part of our legacy.”
“That is why all the lobbyists are here, because it is a multi-billion dollar business.” “Before anybody votes on this bill read this bill. There is a big difference between weekly and daily fantasy games and season long fantasy games.
State Representative Arnold Mooney (R-Indian Springs) said this violates the Alabama Constution, “I don’t see how we get around article 1 section 65 of the Constitution. The gambling interests supporting this are taking money out of the State. The majority of the money goes offshore. Draft Kings CEO Jason Roberts admitted that his site was like a casino. This is an effort to circumvent our gambling laws. The lobbying campaign behind this are gambling interests. This is a detriment to our State and not a positive
State Representative Phil Williams (R-Huntsville) said, “This bill would say some kinds of gambling is legal and some kinds are not. I swore an oath to uphold the Constitution.”
Rep. Johnson said that this is not gambling because it takes skill.
Rep. David Standridge (R-Hayden) said, “I would submit that Tex Hold em is gambling and has a lot of skill. If we want to take up gambling we have to do it in a constitional amendment.”
House Judiciary Chairman Mike Jones (R from Andalusia) strongly objected to language in the bill preventing the Attorney General from being able to write rules for the industry that the AG was to regulate.
Rep. Johnson wanted to table the Jones amendment but the amendment passed.
Jones then submitted another amendment rewriting much of the language in the bill to make it easier for state regulators to regulate that business and write rules for doing so. Jones amendment also outlawed fantasy sports machines where an operate can have fantasy tournaments played electronically in a business.
That amendment also passed over Johnson’s objections.
Rep. Christopher John England (D-Tuscaloosa) argued that fantasy sports are not gambling because the players are not betting on the outcome of the contest. England also questioned whether AG Strange’s opinion was legally binding.
There were four different votes on the Budget Isolation Resolution (BIR). Twice the BIR was defeated killing the bill, the House even moved on to the next bill at one point; but supporters claimed that there was some sort of a glitch in the voting machines. Ultimately they won that argument so the final BIR was in favor of the bill. Final passage also was a close vote.
House Bill 354 now moves to the Senate.