By Chip Brownlee
Alabama Political Reporter
District 4 Alabama House of Representatives candidate Tom Willis has promised to sponsor legislation that would authorize a lottery “on day one.” His legislation, he says, would allow the people of Alabama to vote for or against a lottery.
“This issue has dominated conversation and controversy in this state for nearly twenty years and it’s time that the people of Alabama had a chance to vote or against an Alabama lottery,” Willis said. “As I have traveled throughout this district I have heard people who are both pro-lottery and anti-lottery tell me that they want this debate to end and to see the lottery on a ballot. I promise that if I am elected, I will file a bill on my first day in office that will allow Alabamians to vote for or against a lottery in this state.”
Alabama lawmakers have for years filed numerous pieces of lottery legislation, but none have passed and Alabamians haven’t had the chance to vote for or against a lottery since 1999, when then-Gov. Don Siegelman authorized a statewide referendum on the measure. The referendum failed decisively 18 years ago.
Gov. Robert Bentley last year called a special session to seek a referendum on creating a lottery. He planned to use the revenue created by the lottery, which he estimated at the time to be $225 million annually, to balance shortfalls in the state’s General Fund and shore up the state’s underfunded Medicaid and law enforcement agencies. But no legislation made it out of the Legislature after lawmakers hit disagreement over the issue of electronic gambling.
Democrats were critical of House language that prohibited electronic lottery terminals, arguing that it would limit the state’s ability to sell tickets and make money and that it would guarantee the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, who operate several casinos in the state, a monopoly on gambling machines. The disagreement was symbolic of similar disagreements lawmakers have had over the past several decades of debate of a statewide lottery.
Willis, who is running in the Republican primary to replace State Rep. Mickey Hammon, said his lottery bill would call for a simple yes-or-no vote and would dedicate all proceeds to the state’s education budget. It would contain no other “caveats or nuances.”
“Either Alabamians want an education lottery or they don’t and a simple yes or no vote will answer that question once and for all,” he said.