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Historic gambling bill faces critical test in conference committee

The bill, originally passed by the House, proposed sweeping changes including a statewide education lottery.

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A landmark gambling bill that breezed through the House of Representatives earlier this session, with strong backing from Gov. Kay Ivey, faced a major setback after the Senate presented an alternate bill, dramatically altering the original proposals. The legislation, pivotal for Alabama’s gambling landscape, now hangs in the balance as it heads to a conference committee for negotiation.

The bill, originally passed by the House, proposed sweeping changes including a statewide education lottery, the issuance of up to 10 casino licenses, provisions for sports wagering, and the establishment of a gambling commission to tackle illegal gaming activities. However, the Senate’s revisions drastically scaled back these proposals, eliminating full casino gambling and sports betting, and reducing expected revenue from $1.2 billion to $500 million annually.

The House members appointed to the conference committee include Representatives Chris Blackshear, Andy Whitt, and Sam Jones. All three have been instrumental in shaping the gambling legislation, aiming for a compromise that respects Alabama’s stringent gaming laws while garnering bipartisan support.

On the Senate side, the appointed conferees are Sen. Greg Albritton, Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton, and Sen. Garlan Gudger.

House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter emphasized the House’s commitment to eliminating illegal gaming, regulating licensed facilities, and focusing on educational benefits from lottery revenues. “The people of Alabama deserve a say on this issue,” Ledbetter stated, expressing hope for a compromise that would allow a public vote.

Differences between the House and Senate versions extend beyond gaming specifics to the allocation of revenues. The House’s approach favored massive educational investments, including free community college tuition, while the Senate proposed an even split among the general fund, infrastructure, and education.

The outcome of the conference committee’s efforts remains uncertain, but the stakes are high as both legislative bodies seek to finalize a bill that could transform Alabama’s gaming landscape and provide substantial economic benefits.

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Tensions between the two chambers have been evident, with differing visions on how to best expand and regulate gambling within the state. Albritton has expressed uncertainty over what compromise might satisfy both the House and Senate. Meanwhile, Singleton has shown a willingness to seek a middle ground on certain issues, including setting a feasible election date for the public to vote on the finalized bill. He remains optimistic about reaching an agreement that, while possibly not ideal for all parties, could succeed on the ballot.

The outcome of these negotiations could significantly shape Alabama’s gambling regulations and its economic landscape. As both sides prepare to discuss and debate these crucial differences, the state watches eagerly, hoping for a resolution that aligns with public interest and fiscal responsibility.

Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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