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Gambling bill unlikely to see action this week, but there is renewed optimism

As senators work through a variety of options for gambling, many are starting to realize the best option is in front of them.

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It’s unlikely that the comprehensive gambling legislation will find its way into a Senate committee this week, the senate sponsor told APR, but some lawmakers participating in a marathon meeting over the two-bill package on Monday said a number of issues have been worked through and there’s growing optimism about the bill. 

Sen. Greg Albritton said he didn’t believe there was time to get the bill into a committee this week, since a number of issues are outstanding, but he also seemed to indicate that progress is being made in regards to addressing some concerns. 

“I’m not saying it won’t be in committee if we make a lot of progress, but right now, I don’t think there’s time,” he said, following a two-and-a-half-hour meeting about the legislation. “I feel like we’ve been able to address some concerns and bring some reality to the discussion. There are a few senators who simply aren’t going to vote for this legislation no matter what we do to address their concerns, and we’ve had to come to the reality that they’re no longer going to be dictating things.”

Albritton said he’s held conversations with some senators in recent days in which he asked for a list of specific problems, and then, after pointing out that each of those concerns were addressed specifically in the legislation, those lawmakers still told him they wouldn’t vote for the bill. 

“There’s nothing more I can do there,” he said. “It’s time to move on from them.”

However, other senators, and a few House members, who have been involved in the ongoing negotiations and meetings said they have been encouraged in recent days about the progress on the bill. That was particularly true on Monday, they said, when there seemed to be a significant shift in attitudes towards the realities of the current state of gambling in Alabama and the realistic solutions to this lingering issue. 

“It was like a light bulb went on for a few folks over the weekend,” said one lawmaker. “I think they’ve finally realized that while theoretically there might be some better options, if we were working in a perfect world, here in the real world, as the song goes, it ain’t so easy.” 

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As a House member put it: “I think a lot of senators are coming to understand what we figured out – that there’s only one real pathway to getting this done and it’s the bill the House put together. There are a lot of ways we would have rather done things. Our legislation is the fix that works for this mess we have here.” 

It also hasn’t hurt, the lawmakers said, that Gov. Kay Ivey and her staff have been making calls to lawmakers and attempting to work through issues. Her legal staff has been particularly important in the talks, one senator said. 

As an example of the progress being made, one senator pointed to the talk of a lottery-only bill and a lottery/compact bill that was prevalent late last week. Thanks to a combination of House members and lawyers, lawmakers who might have supported such plans now seem to understand that they simply won’t work. 

“It’s fine for the average person out there to want just a lottery, but because of the way things are with the laws, federal and state and whatnot, that can’t happen,” a House member said. “We’ve been able to get that point across over the past several days. There’s no way to split this thing and get it passed and get it implemented. 

“The other thing we’ve been pointing out is why in the hell would you want to? All of this is popular with the people. No one is losing an election over a bill that lets people vote on something.”

However, losing elections is the latest argument in Republican circles to undercut the bill. According to numerous lawmakers, a recent tactic by lobbyists working against the bill is to tell members that putting it on the November ballot will drive Democratic voters to the polls and cost ALGOP elections. 

“It’s laughable,” Albritton said. “There isn’t a bit of evidence of that, zero polling. But there’s a bunch of polling showing that allowing people to vote on gambling is the most popular thing we could possibly do regardless of party.” 

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Another senator added: “The reverse of that being the most popular thing is that it stands to reason that not doing something that 90 percent of the voting public supports would be extremely unpopular. I’m worried more about that.”

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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