The Alabama Senate on Thursday carried over Republican state Sen. Del Marsh’s lottery and gaming bills at his request, and in comments before the action, no senator expressed real concern with the bill, and instead offered suggestions to increase the number of casinos allowed.
Marsh’s Senate Bill 214 is a proposed amendment to the Alabama Constitution that would overturn Alabama’s constitutional ban on gambling and games of chance. Marsh’s Senate Bill 215 is the enabling legislation that would go into effect if SB214 is passed and then ratified by Alabama voters.
SB214, as it’s currently written, would create a state lottery and allow casino gambling at four existing gaming centers, and at one additional casino, to be located in North Alabama and operated by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. The bill would also urge the governor to enter into a compact with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.
Marsh’s bill would also establish a seven-member Alabama Gaming Commission, which would be tasked with controlling gaming in the state.
“I do believe it is time in Alabama for us to address the issue of gaming once and for all,” Marsh told his colleagues on the Senate floor Thursday, before opening it up for comments from other senators.
Sen. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, suggested Marsh consider including vendors in the list of gaming entities barred from making donations to Alabama politicians. The bill’s language currently prohibits political donations from a gaming facility, an officer, director or owner of a gaming facility.
McClendon also said he’s heard from a mayor in St. Clair County who would like to see a gaming facility in his area, which isn’t allowed in the current draft of Marsh’s bill.
Sen. Donnie Chesteen, R-Geneva, also discussed his concern that in the current bill there’s no gaming facility in Dothan.
“My colleagues that I’ve talked to, and I think the public wants strong controls on gaming, and even a, if you will, a finite number,” Marsh said. “I don’t think that people are that concerned about what that finite number is, as long as there is one.”
Marsh said he’s open to including language in a substitute bill, which he said he plans to file once the state Legislature returns from a week break, which begins Monday, that would allow the gaming commission to select two additional casinos in the future, bringing the total to seven.
“Anyone to come and do a presentation to the Gaming Commission to say, here’s a place we should have one and here’s why,” Marsh said.
“We have been overwhelmed with gaming for the last 20 years in this room,” said Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Atmore. “It’s time we ended that. We end it with this bill. We moved to other factors.”
Albritton noted that the bill provides funding for rural health care that’s sorely needed, and a minimum of $1 billion toward broadband expansion statewide.
Marsh’s bill states that, after paying for the expense of operating the lottery, 100 percent of the lottery revenue would go towards post-secondary scholarships.
The bill states that the gaming commission would get 20 percent of casino revenues to pay for its expenses, and any remaining funds would go to the general fund budget.
The general fund would get 75 percent of casino revenues, with 65 percent for IT infrastructure, the first $1 billion devoted to broadband expansion. Rural health care services would get 25 percent and 10 percent for mental health care. (After the initial $1 billion is spent on broadband, the percentages shift to: 25 percent to the general fund, 25 percent to rural health care services, 25 percent to continue to develop IT infrastructure, 15 percent to mental health, 10 percent to infrastructure projects in districts that lack a casino.)
The county commission in the county where the casino is located would get 3 percent of revenues, and two percent would go to the municipality where the casino is located.
“This is a big issue. It addresses a lot of issues, and I would ask that on this, you not perhaps look at just what your own personal beliefs are, but what do your constituents, by and large, want you to do. That’s all I ask,” Marsh told his colleagues.
Alabama’s Senate Tourism Committee on Wednesday gave a favorable report for Marsh’s gaming bills. The bills are to be taken back up in the full Senate after the Legislature’s weeklong break, which begins Feb 15.