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Lottery bill to be considered in committee this week

Brandon Moseley

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The lottery bill is expected to be voted on in committee this week.

AL.com has reported the vote would take place in committee Tuesday, but later reporting by the Alabama Daily News stated that the vote would be Wednesday afternoon in the House Tourism and Economic Development Committee.

As of press time, the legislature is not reporting any of their committee agendas to know who is meeting at what time and what will be on their agenda.

Senate Bill 220 is sponsored by State Senator Greg Albritton, R-Atmore.

The bill states: “The Legislature finds that lotteries have been enacted in many states and the revenues generated from those lotteries have contributed to the benefit of those states. Many Alabamians already participate in other state lotteries.

Therefore, the purpose of the proposed 16 amendments is to establish and provide for a lottery statewide to generate revenue for the state.”

Originally the profits from the lottery were to be split between the Alabama Trust Fund  — the state’s savings account — and the state general fund but that was modified by the Senate to the SGF.

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The House committee has further amended the bill to send 75 percent of the profits to the General Fund and 25 percent to the education budget.

SB220 would allow for Alabama to participate in multi-state lotteries like the Power Ball and do daily scratch-offs at convenience stores. Gambling advocates claim that the Albritton lottery leaves money on the table by not expanding to computer games.

Senator Jim McClendon, R-Springville, had introduced a more freewheeling lottery bill that included video lottery terminals (VLTs) at the state’s four dog tracks. Senate Majority Leader Del Marsh, R-Anniston, however, preferred the paper lottery only Albritton proposal so the McClendon bill has languished in a committee in the house of origin.

The Alabama Constitution of 1901 forbids games of chance and other forms of gambling, thus to allow a lottery means that the Albritton bill requires a three-fifths supermajority to pass in both Houses of the legislature.

If the bill somehow gets out of committee, it faces an uncertain path in the House.

State Representatives Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee, and Artis “A.J” McCampbell, D-Livingston, have both introduced local constitutional amendments to legalize electronic bingo machines at Victoryland in Shorter and Greentrack in Eutaw.

Warren has said that she will not vote for the lottery unless the Republican approve her constitutional amendment.
Some Republicans have said that they will support a paper lottery only and will not vote to allow electronic bingo in Alabama.  It is not known if the entire Democratic caucus would follow that course; but it is difficult for a gambling bill, even the lottery, to pass the House without Democratic support.

It is estimated that at least twenty-two conservative Republicans are opposed to any expansion of gambling in the state to include SB220.

Earlier this year, Democrats allied with establishment Republicans to pass a fantasy sports contest bill in the House and to pass a massive fuel tax increase both over the objections of conservative Republicans. The leadership will need to hold that moderate GOP-Democrat coalition together to pass the lottery in the house. If the House were to allow the expansion of legalized gambling at the dog tracks, there is a strong likelihood that the bill would be dead on arrival when it comes back to the Senate. The version that passed the Senate only passed 21 to 12.

Some critics of SB220 complain that by not expanding electronic bingo it makes the Poarch Creek Indians, a sovereign tribe whose electronic casino games are protected by the federal government’s Bureau of Indian Affairs, a monopoly and that would be protected by the state constitution.

Some lottery supporters will vote for any lottery bill; while others argue that since it is unlikely that a second constitutional amendment will pass any time soon that a lottery amendment has to be “right” (and different legislators have different definitions for what a right lottery bill looks like).

Then Gov. Robert Bentley called a special session in 2016 to pass a lottery. Then both Houses passed different versions of the lottery, but could not reach agreement on what kind of a lottery bill they wanted.

Conservatives argue that the government should not be funded on an untrustworthy source like a lottery that requires that government exploit the personal weaknesses of the citizenry to fund its operations. Generally, only the citizens who can not understand mathematics play lottery games frequently enough to make the games pay and often those citizens become gambling addicts and they are often the ones least able to afford it.

75 percent of the cost of running a lottery would go to prizes, promotion, the convenience stores that sell the tickets, and the company that runs the lottery for the state. Albritton estimates that his lottery would return $167 million to state coffers annually. Critics like Senator Larry Stutts, R-Sheffield, reject that estimate as far too high. Stutts opposes any lottery; but said that if we were to pass a lottery, this was the wrong lottery.

If a lottery bill does pass the legislature, it still has to be approved by voters during the March presidential primaries. While many voters support a lottery, like Georgia’s that funds Hope Scholarships for college kids, this lottery does not do that. Instead, all the money goes back to the government. That could be a harder sell to voters, who rejected the lottery the last time that the legislature passed one.

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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House

Senate pro tem requests general fund committee begin hearings in July

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Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh, R-Anniston, announced today that he has asked Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee Chairman Greg Albritton, R-Range, to begin holding General Fund Committee meetings in preparation for the next session.

In an effort to be better prepared because of uncertainty in state revenue as a result of COVID-19 pandemic Senator Albritton has agreed with Senator Marsh and has invited Legislative Services, the Department of Finance, Pardons and Paroles, Corrections and the Personnel Department to provide updates to the committee.

“Typically, we begin this process closer to sessions however because of uncertainty about state income and possibility of special sessions, we felt like it was important to get started much earlier than usual in this process,” Senator Albritton said. “The Legislature has done an excellent job managing our budgets over the past few years. So much so that Alabama was able to weather the storm of the COVID-19 shutdown this year with little impact to our vital state services. We understand that we will not have final revenue projections until after July 15th, but we must continue to do our due diligence and ensure that we use taxpayer money sensibly.”

“We want to make sure that all public money is being used wisely, now and in the future,” Senator Marsh said. “We have many pressing issues facing the state such as a potential $2 billion-dollar prison reform proposal and a stunning lack of rural broadband investment which need to be addressed whenever the Legislature is back in session and it is our duty to make sure we are prepared and kept up to speed on these matters. Furthermore, the taxpayers deserve a clear and transparent view of how their money is being used.”

The hearings are scheduled to begin July 9 in the Alabama State House.

 

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Part-time employee in lieutenant governor’s office tests positive for COVID-19

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A part-time employee in Lieutenant Governor Will Ainsworth’s office, who the office said works only a handful of hours each week, tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday, according to a press statement.

The employee, whose work area is separated from the rest of the staff, last worked in the office on the morning of Thursday, June 18.

All members of the office staff have been tested or are in the process of being tested for COVID-19 in response, and, thus far, no additional positive results have been reported.

In addition, the State House suite has been thoroughly cleaned and will remain closed until all employees’ test results have been returned.

Employees are working remotely from home, and phones are being answered in order to continue providing services to the citizens who need them.

 

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Three workers at ADOC headquarters among latest to test positive for COVID-19

Eddie Burkhalter

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Sixteen more Alabama Department of Corrections employees, including three at the department’s headquarters in Montgomery, have tested positive for COVID-19. 

The department’s latest update, released Monday evening, puts the total of confirmed cases among employees at 99, with 73 cases still active. 

Five more inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 as well, including inmates at the Donaldson Correctional Facility, the Easterling Correctional Facility, the Kilby Correctional Facility, the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women and the St. Clair Correctional Facility.

18 of 27 confirmed cases among inmates remained active as of Monday, according to ADOC. 

Of the department’s 28 facilities, there have been confirmed COVID-19 cases among staff or inmates in 21. Of the state’s approximately 22,000 inmates, 214 had been tested as of Friday. 

Areas inside numerous state prisons are under quarantine, with ADOC staff either limiting inmate movements to those areas or checking for symptoms regularly and conducting twice daily temperature checks, according to the department.

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Still work to be done on an Alabama gambling deal

Josh Moon

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A grand deal on gambling is possible in Alabama, but there’s still a long way to go. 

That was essentially the message that representatives from the Poarch Creek Indians and owners of non-Indian casinos around the state gave Friday to Gov. Kay Ivey’s Study Group on Gambling Policy. The 12-member group heard presentations, via Zoom, from representatives from all the tracks and casinos in the state, as it continues in its quest to put together a proposal that Ivey and state lawmakers can use to hopefully craft future gambling legislation. 

To move forward with almost any legislation will require an agreement of some sort between PCI, Lewis Benefield, who operates VictoryLand and the Birmingham Race Course, and Nat Winn, the CEO of GreeneTrack. The owners of smaller electronic bingo halls in Greene and Lowndes Counties will also have some input. 

The tug of war between these various entities has, over the last several years, prevented an expansion of gambling. It also has left the state in a weird situation in which casinos are operating on a daily basis but there are numerous legal questions and the state is making very little in the way of tax dollars from any of them. 

But with public support for lotteries, sportsbooks and even full casino gambling at all-time highs (even a majority of Republican voters surveyed said they support full casinos in the state), and with neighboring states rapidly expanding offerings, state lawmakers seem ready to push through legislation to make it happen. 

And now, it seems, the two sides in this fight — PCI and the track owners — are ready to make a deal. 

“I feel like there’s a plan out there that would benefit all of us,” said Benefield, who is the son-in-law of Milton McGregor, who passed away in 2018. “I’d like to see us put together something that gets these customers back from surrounding states. I just really feel like we can work together.”

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Benefield wasn’t alone in those feelings. 

“We stand ready to sit down and talk (about a grand deal) with anyone,” said Arthur Mothershed, who, as vice president of business development for PCI, handled the tribe’s presentation on Friday. 

Mothershed and Benefield have each said previously, and APR has reported, that the tribe and the non-Indian entities have held several discussions over the last few months in a quest to work out a deal. 

There is a new, old player involved, however. 

Former Gov. Jim Folsom, now a lobbyist, represented several Greene County electronic bingo entities, including GreeneTrack, during the conference. Folsom and others representing the bingo casinos told the group that bingo is essentially the financial lifeblood for their county, and that without it multiple county services could go unfunded. 

Ivey’s study group has met four times with the goal of providing state lawmakers with clear answers on questions of revenue, risks and options for gaming types. Any legislation approved by lawmakers would have to be approved by voters.

 

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