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Lottery bill gets favorable report from Senate Committee

Brandon Moseley

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The Senate Tourism and Marketing Committee voted on Tuesday to give a favorable report to a bill that would create a constitutional amendment allowing voters to decide whether or not they wanted to have a state lottery.

Senate Bill 220 is sponsored by Republican Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Atmore.

SB220 specifies that a lottery would be played with paper tickets and allows both inter-state games like the “Power Ball” and intra-state games like paper scratch-offs.

Albritton said that most people think of a paper lottery when a lottery is discussed.

Sen. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, is the sponsor of another lottery bill, that would have created a system where video lottery terminals were allowed at dog tracks and other facilities in the state. That more bill was not on the committee agenda.

Under the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, gambling is illegal.

That was amended to allow dog tracks and a horse track, which has since become a dog track. Gamblers lost interest in the dogs and horses, so those facilities later added charity bingo. The Alabama Supreme Court and Attorney General Steve Marshall maintain that bingo is a game that is played on paper cards and that “electronic bingo” played on any kind of electric machine is actually an illegal slot machine.

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McClendon’s bill would have allowed the dog tracks to have the video lottery terminals that functioned much like an electronic scratch off card. The lack of a video lottery terminal section in the Albritton bill (SB220), caused much dissatisfaction from most Democrats led by state Senate Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro.

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Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said he supports Albritton’s bill because it is simpler and has the best chance to pass.

The fiscal note on the bill estimates that it would raise $167 million a year after prizes and expenses are paid.

That would be used to repay the Alabama Trust Fund $184 million that was raided following the Great Recession to prop up the state general fund. Once that was paid off, the money would be divided between the Alabama Trust Fund and the General Fund.

The lottery bill that then Gov. Don Siegelman brought to the voters would have created a college scholarship program similar to Georgia’s Hope scholarships. The Albritton lottery funds no scholarship program.

The voters rejected the Siegelman lottery in 1999.

Former Gov. Robert Bentley called a special session to bring a lottery proposal in 2016. The Alabama House and Senate each passed different versions of a lottery but were divided on the video lottery terminals so that effort failed.

Opponents of the lottery say that it, like all forms of legalized gambling, is a regressive tax that promotes gambling addictions and disproportionately hurts the poor and less educated.

The consumer advocacy group, Stop Predatory Gambling, said the American people squandered $118 billion of personal wealth on gambling in 2018.

The Alabama Citizens Action Patrol is opposing the bill.

“This Thursday the Alabama State Senate is expected to debate and vote on a lottery bill (SB220, sponsored by Sen. Greg Albritton),” said ALCAP Executive Director Joe Godfrey. “Please call your state senator and ask him/her to oppose this bill.”

“It is considered a ‘clean lottery bill,’ but there is no such thing,” Godfrey said. “If Alabama votes to legalize a state-sponsored lottery, which is considered to be Class III gambling, the Poarch Creek Indians will be able to demand a compact be signed with the State that will allow them to have full-fledged casino gambling. Tell your State Senator to oppose ALL pro-gambling bills.”

Singleton introduced an amendment that would help existing gaming establishments. Albritton said the amendment was unnecessary.

The vote divided both political parties in committee.

SB220 could be voted on by the Senate as early as Thursday.

If a lottery passes both houses of the Legislature, as a constitutional amendment, it would still have to be approved by the voters of Alabama.

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