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Opinion | The clown show rolls on: Albritton’s lottery bill advances out of committee

Josh Moon

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The worst lottery bill in history will get a vote in the Alabama Senate.

The Senate’s Tourism Committee, with a 6-5 vote, gave Sen. Greg Albritton’s “paper only” lottery bill a favorable report on Tuesday. It is, presumably, headed for a full debate and vote in the Senate.

Although, with a gambling bill in Alabama, who knows? They rarely, if ever, go as expected.

If you doubt that, consider what happened on Tuesday.

For several days now, Senate President Del Marsh, who also chairs the Tourism Committee, has been telling media that Albritton’s bill is the one favored by the Republican caucus and the one he believes can pass out of the Senate.

On Tuesday, two of six Republicans on the committee voted against Albritton’s bill.

It passed only after Sen. Billy Beasley, D-Clayton, swapped sides — in what could have been a mistake — and voted for the bill.

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That’s not much of a consensus.

And it’s not hard to understand why there isn’t one. It’s an awful bill that undermines the state in favor of placating a top donor (the Poarch Creek Indians) and protecting their gambling monopoly that generates zero in Alabama taxes.

Despite the Senate president pro tempore beating the drum for this bill, and despite his efforts to block better legislation, Republican senators remained so skeptical that the bill shouldn’t have advanced out of committee.

Democrats in that committee took some time to politely rip it to shreds, pointing out its many shortcomings and attaching an amendment from Sen. Bobby Singleton that would protect currently legal pari-mutuel wagering and electronic games at racetracks.

But it was Sen. Roger Smitherman who provided one of the most important critiques of the bill — that its “paper only” limitations would likely make it obsolete in a few years.

“That’s just not where these games are headed,” Smitherman said.

And he’s right. In their zeal to protect their donors instead of their constituents, Marsh and Albritton are pushing a lottery that could wind up being the most unpopular in the country in a few years. One that few people play and that generates a miniscule amount of revenue for the state — none of it going towards education.

Because electronic lottery games are becoming increasingly more popular. So much so that they’re outpacing the revenue generated by every “paper” lottery product already. And as more and more people play the games on their phones or computers, the more important they become for states.

Basically, think of it like newspapers. Albritton’s bill limits the state to an old-fashioned paper newspaper. And forbids us from starting a website.

The upside, I guess, is that this atrocious bill appears to be on life support. That’s good and bad.

It’s good that a bad bill will likely die and not harm the state. It’s bad that this clown show of a process has undermined the efforts to pass a lottery bill that would finally end the flow of revenue to other states and allow Alabama to finally address several pressing needs.

But then, clown shows are what we’re known for.

 

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