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The gambling fight continues on, weirdly

A small faction of senators is trying to slyly kill the bill and block voters from an opportunity to have a say about the issue.

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The comprehensive gambling legislation that breezed through the Alabama House earlier this month made a brief appearance in a Senate committee on Wednesday, but the sponsor didn’t allow a vote and an odd public hearing ended with a whimper. 

According to several sources familiar with the negotiations over the bill, Sen. Greg Albritton, who is sponsoring the Senate version of the gambling legislation, pulled the bills from the agenda after learning that a group of anti-gambling senators, led by Sen. Sam Givhan, planned to introduce a substitute bill in an effort to undercut the legislation. 

According to a source with knowledge of talks between the senators, the anti-gaming group of “four or five, depending on the hour,” is attempting to draft legislation that would garner support from 21 Senate Republicans, thus squeezing Democrats out of the negotiations and eliminating the provision allowing the gambling funds to be spent on healthcare expansion. 

“It’s all a big scam,” said one lawmaker. “They know that even if they pass it, the House won’t allow it, because they need the Democrats in the House to get it passed. But that gives these guys cover to kill a bill that 90 percent of the state wants. The people have been loud and clear that they want to vote on this, but these guys want you to know that they know better than the voters.” 

Wednesday’s odd Tourism Committee meeting eventually led to additional negotiations between Albritton, other gaming supporters and the anti-gambling faction. 

Albritton has previously expressed frustration at certain senators, who he said were negotiating in “bad faith” and attempting to “dictate the flow of talks while never having any intention of voting for anything we put together.” 

“One guy, I asked him, ‘OK, what do you want in there and what problems do you have?’” Albritton said. “He went point by point telling me. And I went point by point saying, ‘OK, that’s in there. OK, I’ll put that in there. OK, I’ll fix that. That’s everything you want. Will you vote for it now?’ And he doesn’t miss a beat: ‘No.’ That ain’t representing your district, man. That’s not working for the people.”

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Wednesday’s upheaval also followed a brief bit of optimism late Tuesday, when a tentative agreement had been reached and the legislation, which will allow voters to approve a statewide lottery, sports wagering and up to 10 casino licenses. After telling reporters earlier in the day that the legislation wouldn’t make committee this week, Albritton placed it on the Tourism agenda around 3 p.m. 

Sources told APR that a combination of factors had led to more support for the legislation. Specifically, several pointed to increased pressure from the governor’s office, and explanations from attorneys regarding the options related to alternate legislation and a more detailed explanation of the state’s potential plan to expand healthcare. 

But by the time Wednesday’s meeting rolled around, the anti-gambling faction had concocted a new plan to undercut the legislation, two lawmakers told APR. 

“I hope people are paying attention to what’s happening here,” one Republican lawmaker said. “They’ve told us they want to vote on this. We all know the reality of gambling in this state and why certain things aren’t an option, even if we’d like them to be. So this is a ploy by some members to serve special interests instead of the people.”

Specifically, a lottery-only bill is not a realistic option for the state. Because of Alabama’s unique gambling situation, where certain counties have approved certain forms of gambling and the federal government allows for gambling on the Poarch Band of Creek Indians’ lands, passing a lottery alone is significantly more complicated. And such a bill would never pass either the House or Senate. Additionally, Gov. Kay Ivey has stated publicly that she supports the comprehensive gaming package passed by the House and will not sign “just any bill.”

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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