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Opinion | Without the lottery, Alabama is losing

If some legislators have their way, this opportunity will die. Now is your chance to be heard.

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Right now, Alabama lawmakers are deciding whether to let you vote on constitutional amendments that would result in millions in revenue to the state, improved customer protections, and safeguards placed on the state’s currently unregulated gaming industry. 

But while we wait on the Legislature to act, an estimated $1.1 billion Mega Millions jackpot won this past Tuesday and a current ballooning Power Ball jackpot of $975 million are a stark reminder that Alabamians and small-business owners are suffering from out-of-date policy. These policies are forcing Alabamians to drive to Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, and Tennessee to play the Lottery. Small business owners hoping to sell lottery products are missing out on a 7 percent retail commission that goes right back to their bottom line.

Every time a jackpot passes $1 billion—as it has done 10 times since 2016, four of them last year alone—the state misses out, big time. In the last year, 26 Powerball or Mega Millions jackpots have been greater than $700 million; collectively they generated more than $1.9 billion in revenue for their states.

But not Alabama. Instead, we’re leaving money on the table.

We know that Alabama residents are already gambling and playing the lottery in other states. Stores located along Alabama’s border in Mississippi, Georgia, Tennessee and Florida often boast some of the biggest sales in each state—a tell-tale sign that Alabamians cross state lines in large numbers to play the lottery. This allows our neighboring states in every direction to scoop up dollars that could be benefiting Alabama.

When customers bring their lottery dollars out of state, they also purchase food, liquor, snacks and gasoline. According to a National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) study, 95 percent of lottery customers buy at least one additional item inside the store. In fact, the in-store spending by lottery customers at convenience stores is 65 percent higher than that of non‐lottery customers. That’s another big loss for Alabama, our employees and their families. 

These are small businesses that are hurting: Nearly three-quarters of Alabama convenience stores are independently owned mom-and-pop shops—one of the highest percentages of any state in the country.

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For the first time in 25 years, Alabama has the opportunity to vote on allowing the lottery, giving our people the chance to participate directly in the jackpots often totaling more than $1 billion. Alabama is one of five remaining states that does not have a lottery, which includes Nevada, Utah, Hawaii and Alaska.

We haven’t been this close in a quarter of a century, but if some legislators have their way, this opportunity will die. Now is your chance to be heard. Call your state senator and representative, and tell them you want the chance to vote and give Alabama the opportunity Florida and others have had for more than 30 years.

For the nearly 3,700 convenience stores in Alabama, it’s more than the convenience of playing the lottery at home instead of over state lines—it’s a choice we need to make.

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