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Opinion | A “clean lottery” is incredibly stupid

There is a proposal that would allow for only a “clean lottery” — an idea that would cost us $500 million and 12,000 jobs.

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There is new-new gambling legislation in the Alabama House. That newest bill, sponsored by Rep. Chip Brown and other conservative Republicans, would implement a “clean lottery” in the state and do nothing else. 

During a number of interviews, Brown has repeatedly said that his bill addresses what Alabamians really want. 

This is not a new argument from Alabama’s conservative lawmakers, but it’s weird that they only make it when there is other gambling legislation receiving attention. Some cynical people might speculate that the “clean lottery” proposal’s only purpose is to hijack the conversation about gaming and ultimately blow up the process. 

Because a lottery-only proposal has little chance of passing, and everyone involved knows it. Both the Poarch Band of Creek Indians and the current owners of the state’s four dog tracks (which includes the Poarch Creeks) oppose the legislation, which causes major problems in gathering votes for the bill. Add to that group the number of anti-gaming Republicans and pro-gambling Democrats, and the votes aren’t there. 

But since this bill is on the floor, it presents us with another opportunity to address one of the common arguments against the comprehensive gaming legislation that is currently awaiting a vote in the Senate. That bill, sponsored by Sen. Greg Albritton, would also establish a statewide lottery and allow for sports gaming and five casinos that would fall under state regulation. Those casinos would be located at the four current dog tracks and at a fifth location in northeast Alabama. 

Polling has also shown that legislation to be very popular among voters, and a number of sources within the Alabama legislature have told APR that it has enough support to pass both houses. 

Nevertheless, we will – for like the hundredth time – be forced to endure yet another argument about a “clean lottery,” and be told repeatedly that: 

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Alabama voters want a clean lottery!

They don’t. Even if they think they do, Alabama voters do not want a “clean lottery” bill to pass. Because it is incredibly stupid. 

It’s so stupid, in fact, that it might be the dumbest idea to ever be entertained by the Alabama Legislature. And yes, I’m fully aware of the competition in that category. 

Let me explain why. 

No matter which bill you pass – assuming one passes – you will have a statewide lottery. That will be the largest expansion of gaming in the state. It will put gambling literally in every city and county in this state, at virtually every convenience store in every town. 

So, there is no argument to be made over “gambling expansion” between the two bills. You can’t expand it more than a lottery. 

The rest of Albritton’s bill, which establishes the casinos and limits gambling everywhere else, would likely result in less widespread gambling around the state. Casinos would be located at four locations where there are already casinos, and one new location. And everything else would be shut down. 

Brown’s bill, which is a paper-only lottery, would generate roughly $250-$275 million in revenue each year. And there would still be four operational casinos, plus the three casinos being operated by the Poarch Creeks – none of which are properly taxed by the state for gaming revenue. (Under Albritton’s bill, the casinos would be taxed at a 20 percent rate and the Poarch Creeks would agree to pay the state for the three casinos they’re currently operating. There also would be a licensing fee worth millions of dollars for each casino.)

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Albritton’s bill would generate roughly $750-$850 million in revenue each year. And with the Poarch Creek compact agreement, that figure could swell to around a billion dollars. Every single year. 

In addition to that, economic experts predict the casinos would produce at a minimum 12,000 permanent jobs. 

It’s also worth noting that there is no such thing as a “clean lottery” bill. It’s just a lottery. It’s the same lottery, minus some electronic options, that is included in Albritton’s bill. It’s no better, no worse. 

So, let’s do the math here. If Alabama lawmakers were to pass a bill establishing a “clean lottery,” we would lose at least $500 million annually (and possibly as much as $750 million) and give up 12,000 jobs. In exchange, we would still proceed with the largest possible expansion of gambling, we would still have seven operational casinos paying ZERO in state gaming taxes and we would still have these gaming fights in the legislature every year. 

Or simpler: Choosing to have four casinos instead of five would cost us $500 million annually and 12,000 jobs. 

Our legislature has done a lot of very stupid things over the years, but you’d be hard pressed to find an instance of lawmakers knowingly turning down $500 million and 12,000 jobs in exchange for basically the same thing. 

Because that would be a whole other level of stupid.

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Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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