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Opinion | Why can’t you just vote on gambling?

There are reasons why you never get to vote on gambling. Those reasons have absolutely nothing to do with what’s best for the state.

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Gambling is popular in Alabama. 

Despite all of the phony hand-wringing over gambling legislation during every legislative session and all of the alleged “moral pushback” about legalizing casino wagering, Alabama loves to gamble. 

We’re one of the top states in the country each year for sports wagering. Alabama gamblers are one of the top groups of users on the offshore gambling website Bovada. Our residents spend millions each year buying lottery tickets and visiting casinos in other states. The total amount of legal and illegal gambling in this state accounts for billions of dollars each year.  

It’s no wonder, then, that when polled on the question of legalizing gambling, implementing a lottery and allowing sports wagering, Alabama voters overwhelmingly said they wanted the chance to vote on it. 

And by “overwhelmingly,” I mean 89 percent. 

You couldn’t get 89 percent of the people in this state to agree with you that the sky is blue. That’s how popular the issue is at this point. 

It’s not just a bunch of “lib’rals” either. Gambling legalization, including a lottery, casino-style games and sports wagering, is also popular among those who consider themselves conservative voters. More than 60 percent of them, in a 2015 poll, wanted a chance to vote on the issue. 

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But then, what do you dopey voters know? 

It doesn’t matter what you want, what you think is best for yourself or for the state. No, no. The politicians – they’re the ones who know better than you what’s best for you. 

Just ask Chris Elliott. 

The Baldwin County state senator said last week, during an appearance on a Mobile-area radio station, 106.5-FM, that it doesn’t matter what y’all want. No, the politics matter more. The politicians matter more. 

Elliott said out loud the part that elected officials are never supposed to say out loud – that their job security matters more than serving you. 

Elliott said that rumored legislation that would legalize a lottery, casino gambling at certain locations and sports wagering – while clamping down on the thousands of illegal gambling operations around the state – would be a bad idea. Not because the legislation is unpopular, or because it’s bad legislation that wouldn’t solve the problems and increase revenue, but because putting the issue on the ballot in 2024 might drive more Democrats to the polls and result in a loss in Alabama’s newly-drawn 2nd congressional district. 

Three things: 1. Republicans ain’t winning that seat, and it doesn’t matter if Ronald Reagan’s ghost is on the ticket; 2. Democrats in that district will NOT need a secondary issue, like gambling, to drive them to the polls to vote in a fair race that they fought all the way to the Supreme Court to get; and 3. Republicans gamble too. 

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You have to be living in some alternate reality to seriously believe that Democrats hold a major voter advantage on the issue of gambling in this day and age. Or maybe that’s just what living inside the Republican super-conservative news bubble does for you. 

About the only Republicans who are vehemently opposed to gambling legislation at this point are the ones who don’t fully understand the complexities of the issue in this state and the ones who are being paid by certain interested parties (like out-of-state casino owners) to oppose the legislation. 

There is no major organized opposition. 

Because we’re talking about a business that’s everywhere now. You can’t watch a ballgame without 87 ads for online sportsbooks. Everyone discusses the lines on games. Half the state drives to Georgia or Tennessee or Florida to buy tickets for the big Powerball drawings. And those buses leaving for Biloxi and other casino locations are filled with active church members. 

No one cares anymore. It’s like being opposed to alcohol sales. 

Except in this case, we’re still living in the prohibition era of the 1920s, where 90 percent of those sales are conducted by shady characters running shady operations and propping up other illegal activities. That’s the Alabama gambling landscape in 2023. 

Which makes it hilarious to read the ridiculous “study” on gambling from the Alabama Policy Institute. API’s “study” trots out the same old ignorant-of-reality talking points and pretends once again that we’re living inside a gambling-free bubble where neither roads nor the internet exists. 

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“Every phone will become a casino,” the report breathlessly warns of the legalization of sports wagering. Um, excuse me, but y’all do know that offshore gambling websites are accessible on phones now, as are daily fantasy wagering websites, including over/under player totals, right? 

If you don’t, you shouldn’t be writing about gambling. If you do, everyone should question why you’re trying to mislead them on the realities of gambling. 

Look, I’ve written about this issue a bunch. There is no solution that includes just making certain games more illegal. There is no solution that includes just legalizing a lottery. There is no solution that includes more enforcement without a wholesale change of gambling laws on the books – which will require a constitutional amendment and a vote of the people. 

Anyone who tells you differently is lying to you. I’ll leave it up to you to figure out why they’re lying to you. 

But I can assure you of one thing: None of them are lying to you for your benefit.

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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