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Speaker: Only lottery proposal that could pass is traditional paper ticket lottery

Speaker of House Mac McCutcheon presides over the House in the 2018 Legislative Session. (SAMUEL MATTISON/APR)

Monday. Various news outlets released reports that Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon (R – Monrovia) anticipates that the Alabama Legislature will likely deal with lottery legislation in the upcoming 2019 regular session.

Later that day, Speaker McCutcheon released a statement clarifying his position, because some stories have taken the comments he originally made to television station WHNT out of context.

“A reporter from station WHNT in Huntsville asked me last week to comment about the efforts that surrounding states are undertaking to implement lotteries, sports betting, and other forms of gambling,” said Speaker McCutcheon. “I said the Legislature will likely see a lottery bill introduced in the first session of the quadrennium, but that response was based on a general feeling and no concrete knowledge on my part.”

“As far as I am aware, no lottery bills have been drafted, pre-filed, or even discussed in any detail among members,” McCutcheon continued. “And any effort to come forward with a lottery bill in the House would not be led by the leadership, which obviously includes me.”

“I do feel that if any lottery bill were to have a chance of success, it should be defined as a traditional paper ticket lottery rather than an electronic lottery that could open the door to slot machines an other gambling devices,” McCutcheon concluded.

In 2016 then Governor Robert Bentley (R) called a special session to pass a lottery bill. Gambling proponents pushed a bill through the state Senate that also included provisions for electronic lottery games played by certain bingo magnates. The state House of Representatives stripped the bill of the provisions that created electronic bingo monopolies for certain well connected politicos. Gambling proponents joined with conservative gambling opponents to kill the paper lottery bill in the Senate because the gambling advocates in the Senate would not support a paper ticket only lottery. Few in Montgomery really believes that the next lottery bill would not run into the same impasse.

Critics of the lottery argue that lotteries tend to be regressive taxes.  Only the people who lack the ability to comprehend basic mathematical concepts like probabilities actually play the lottery. A lottery is government promoting a fantasy that almost none of the players will ever actually achieve in order to get them to play that games. A lottery becomes addictive because to stop playing the state sponsored games would be to finally give up the dreams of sudden riches that lotteries promote to lure people in to the games.

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Lottery proponents, including Tuscaloosa Mayor Walter “Walt” Maddox (D), claim that a lottery would generate as much as $300 million in new revenues to the state. Critics dispute those rosy projections and point out that the state of Alabama already spends over $21 billion a year and that would only amount to a 1.4 percent increase in state revenues, without accounting for corresponding decreases in sales tax collections as, typically poor, lottery players spend their money on lottery tickets instead of in stores and restaurants.  Economic growth in both the education trust fund and general fund will likely exceed that in the current tax year.

There is also considerable disagreement in Montgomery on what the money would be used for. The Bentley lottery would have propped up Alabama Medicaid. The Siegelman lottery bill was based on the Georgia lottery and would have spent the money on college scholarships. Other lottery proposals would use the money to prop up the general fund or K-12 schools or technology in schools. There are normally several lottery bills introduced each session. The Bentley lottery was the only one to get a vote in both Houses of the Alabama legislature in recent years. State Senator Jim McClendon (R-Springville) sponsored the Bentley lottery bill.
Any expansion of gambling in Alabama would have to pass as an amendment, thus it would have to pass both Houses of the legislature and then still pass a vote of the people, whether in a special referendum (like Gov. Don Siegelman’s lottery) or on the ballot in the 2020 election.

Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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