There is new gambling legislation in the Alabama Senate, and the same old fight is about to get started again. The bill itself, sponsored by Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Atmore, is not much different than the version that nearly passed the legislature a year ago.
That bill, like this one, gave voters an opportunity in November to approve a statewide lottery, sports wagering and full casino gaming, as opposed to the electronic gaming currently being played at several locations around Alabama.
The 2022 bill would see five full casinos licensed by the state – four at current dog track locations and one new facility in northeast Alabama that will be operated by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. Sportsbooks would have to be tethered to those locations, and two satellite casinos, which would offer only electronic games, would also be tethered to the five casinos and located in Lowndes and Houston counties.
Those are the basics of the bill. I think it’s a mostly fair bill that has an opportunity to pass. But there are already attacks – some warranted and some idiotic – on the bill. Over the next few days, I thought it might be beneficial to take the standard arguments against the bill, one at a time, and break down the good and bad points, and maybe inject a little reality into this never-ending argument.
Let’s start with: Alabama doesn’t need the problems that come with casino gambling.
I hear this argument a lot from opponents and it always, always confuses me, because I’ve driven down I-65 in Atmore, up I-85 in Shorter, along Hwy. 231 in Wetumpka, down I-459 in Birmingham and on and on. Those are casinos in operation.
Yes, some started as dog tracks. Others are under federal control. But the cold, hard fact is this: We have lots and lots of gambling, including six operational casinos, already up and running in this state. That doesn’t count the dozen or so small facilities that pop up in rural locations from time to time, nor does it include the back-of-the-gas station bingo machines that exist in pretty much every Alabama county.
We might also consider that daily fantasy sports wagering is legal in Alabama, and you can log onto a number of different off-shore online casinos and do everything from lay down cash on your favorite college team to playing online poker or slots.
And, of course, you can travel just across the state line, as thousands of Alabamians do each year, to Tennessee, Georgia or Florida and purchase lottery tickets or scratch-off cards.
This idea that we’re somehow saving the people of Alabama from the ills of gaming by choosing not to properly regulate and tax it is honestly one of the dumbest arguments against this gambling bill, or any of the previous gambling bills.
All we’re doing is costing ourselves money and jobs. And lots of both.
This bill is projected to generate up to $800 million dollars annually – and that’s before the governor negotiates a compact with the Poarch Creeks that will bring in more money from their casinos – and should create, at a minimum, 12,000 permanent jobs. That doesn’t count the construction jobs that will be temporary.
Additionally, a portion of the money generated will go towards combating the very real problems that gambling creates – problems we’re already dealing with in this state but lack the funds to properly address.
The simple fact is we’re not “legalizing gambling” at this point. Albritton’s bill is regulating an industry that is already operational and already raking in hundreds of millions of dollars in this state annually – almost all of it tax free.
There might be decent arguments against this bill, but saying you’re against legalizing gambling isn’t one of them.