The 2021 Alabama Legislative Session came to an end at midnight on Monday, and Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, said that he regretted not passing gaming or a lottery.
“I wish we would have come up with a proposal for the people to vote on gaming, either a clean lottery or a comprehensive gaming package,” McCutcheon told reporters after midnight. McCutcheon said that the House “only had five legislative days left” when the Senate passed gambling.
Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, crafted a complicated gambling bill that included a negotiated compact with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians who have three electronic bingo parlors; casinos at the state’s four dog tracks and a new site near Chattanooga; the legalization of sports gambling; and a state lottery.
During the complicated negotiations on the bill, Marsh added the former Country Crossings facility near Dothan, and at one point the Whitehall facility in Lowndes County. That bill was originally rejected by the Senate. Sen. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, then introduced a simple lottery. That bill worked its way through the legislative process. At the last minute, casino supporters in the Senate replaced McClendon’s state lottery bill with Marsh’s original gambling proposal.
McCutcheon was asked if looking back on it, the Senate made a mistake when it elected to reject the simple McClendon lottery and pass the Marsh casino bill to the House.
“It is easier to look at it from where we are now and say how we would have done things differently,” McCutcheon said. “They were trying to get enough votes in the Senate to pass something. It is easy to say I would have done this, went with a lottery, or I would have sat down with the House and the Governor to get a better package.”
McCutcheon said that doing a gambling bill is difficult because there are the Poarch Creek Indians that we need to do a compact with, there are 18 gambling facilities across the state: “The produce revenue and jobs in those counties. In some cases to people that would not have jobs without them; and then there are the four big parimutuel facilities in Victoryland, the Birmingham Race Course, Greenetrack, and Mobile. They are struggling to stay open, with questions about their legality and the Supreme Court.”
McCutcheon said that polling shows that the people of Alabama overwhelmingly support a lottery, they are for gaming, and having a right to vote, and that members are going to hear that when they return to their districts. McCutcheon said that it is difficult to predict what will matter to voters, but acknowledged that it could be a November 2022 election issue.
“When you look at the numbers, the people want to vote on this issue,” McCutcheon said.
McCutcheon said that there are “between 48 and 55 Republicans” who are in favor of gaming and it takes 63 to pass a constitutional amendment. We needed Democratic votes.” When it was to come up on May 6, “we were told there was not one (Democratic) vote for this.”
“It was being attacked from both sides of the aisle,” McCutcheon said of the gambling bill.
McCutcheon said that the Democrats were concerned about the 18 other gambling facilities that were not in this, they wanted Black owners to be able to own the gambling facilities, and they wanted Medicaid expansion.
“We were close,” McCutcheon said. “After we left last Thursday we had Senators and House members working together trying to find a compromise.”
McCutcheon said that the governor might call a special session on gambling “if there is an opportunity.”
It is also possible that the House could address the gambling issue early in the 2022 Legislative Session.
“We might could address the issue early and have something on the ballot for the election,” McCutcheon said.
The issue never came to the floor of the House during the 2021 Legislative Session and members of the House were never given the opportunity to vote on a clean lottery.