Alabama state Senate Rules Committee Chairman Jabo Waggoner, R-Vestavia, told the Mid-Alabama Republican Club that the Senate will likely vote on a simple lottery bill Tuesday.
Gambling has been a major issue this session in the Senate.
Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, introduced an ambitious gambling bill, Senate Bill 214, that would have authorized casinos at Alabama dog tracks; ordered the governor to make a compact with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, who operate three electronic bingo casinos under the auspices of the federal Indian Gaming Act; authorize casinos at existing facilities in two other counties; authorize a new casino near Chattanooga; set up a state sports gambling book; and create a state lottery to fund workforce development scholarships.
That overarching plan was rejected by the state Senate.
Waggoner said that he did not know whether the Marsh plan would come back or not.
“There is gambling going on right now in Alabama,” Waggoner said. “There is gambling going on in Jefferson County, and the state is not getting a penny from any of that.”
Congressman Gary Palmer, R-Alabama, responded: “That is an issue for law enforcement. If they are operating illegally, they should be shut down. Bringing gambling machines in across the state line is illegal.”
On Thursday, Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, told reporters: “Next week is critical for gaming.”
With just nine legislative days in the session, the prospects for a gambling bill to pass become both houses of the Legislature in the same form becomes increasingly difficult
The speaker and Senate pro tem have been trying to force the Republican caucuses of both chambers to accept a gambling bill this session after the governor’s study group on gaming suggested that the state could receive between $500 to $800 million a year from a compact with the Poarch Creeks, a sportsbook and a lottery.
One Republican senator who opposes the Marsh bill told APR that the leadership “did not mind dividing the caucus on this.”
Marsh had incentivized his bill for legislators, especially those representing rural districts where broadband service is lacking, by promising a $1 billion investment from the casino revenues for rural broadband. The passage of the American Rescue Act, however, gives the state an estimated $4 billion in one-time money.
Senate Majority Leader Clay Scofield, R-Guntersville, said on Saturday that a portion of the Rescue Act dollars would be spent on broadband. The presence of these federal dollars eliminated one of the main arguments Marsh had for the passage of his bill.
In the wake of Marsh’s failure, Sen. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, re-introduced his bill to create a state lottery.
A paper lottery is very popular with voters according to all the polling done to this point. Many members, including Scofield who opposed Marsh’s bill, say that they will support a simple lottery bill.
McClendon’s bill, Senate Bill 319, was debated on Wednesday. It appears to have broad support.
Critics argue that a lottery is a tax on people without the reasoning ability to understand the math involved and the incredibly high statistical improbabilities of any one person ever winning the jackpot. Lotteries, like gambling addictions in general, often hurt the poorest people the most as the government is selling a fantasy of big winnings that will never happen for over 99.99 percent of the people who play them.
Money that could be used for food, clothes, healthcare, rent, utilities, investments, etc. is instead squandered on Powerball tickets and scratch-offs.
McClendon’s SB319 was carried over at the call of the chair and is expected to be brought up for a vote sometime on Tuesday. Marsh’s proposals in SB214 appear to be a lost cause, but the concept still has powerful backers in both the Senate and the House who could attempt the resurrect the bill.
Any gambling bill passed would be a constitutional amendment so final approval would come from the voters of Alabama, likely in the November 2022 election.
The MARC met Saturday at the Hoover City Hall. It was the group’s first in-person meeting since the COVID-19 economic shutdown. The Republican group has been meeting online via Zoom for months. Twenty-six members attended in-person and many more participated online via Zoom.
Tuesday will be day 22 of the 2021 Legislative Session. The Legislature is limited to just 30 days in a session. The last day of the session will be May 30.