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Opinion | The latest lottery failure should teach us one thing: You don’t matter

Gambling legislation failing highlights a critical flaw in Alabama’s governance: the wishes of voters don’t seem to matter much.

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You do not matter. 

Not even a little bit. 

If you took nothing else from the latest failed attempt to pass gambling legislation it should be exactly that: That your wishes do not matter to the people elected to serve you. 

And no last-minute, phony efforts to do the will of the people should fool you. A minority group of lawmakers decided their personal and professional ambitions were more important than your wishes – and that you’d do nothing about that – and they acted accordingly during the 2024 legislative session. 

That’s a pretty weird phenomenon – to have the man or woman who is supposed to be your voice in Montgomery be so completely unconcerned with what you want your voice to say. But that is the way it is in Alabama today. 

To be absolutely clear, this is not a commentary about gambling or the value of the gambling legislation or how stupid we were to miss out again on gambling revenue. It’s only a commentary on what you wanted and didn’t get. 

Alabamians made it absolutely clear that they wanted a right to vote on gambling. More than 90 percent said the people should be able to vote on the issue. More than 70 percent said they were in favor of an education lottery. More than 60 percent were good with casino gambling. 

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Not in one poll. But in three polls. 

The numbers were consistent and never wavered. Y’all wanted to vote on approving this gambling package. 

But you know, you didn’t need a poll, did you? You and your friends talked about this issue and the response was almost always the same: “It’s stupid that we don’t have a lottery here.” 

Because at this point, we all know that gambling can be very lucrative in terms of tax revenue, and it can result in significant opportunities for people if the funds are used properly. 

That’s why an education lottery is so damn popular. We’ve watched for 20 years as Tennessee, Florida and Georgia have sent tens of thousands of kids to free college, done away with state sales taxes on groceries and fuel and paid for thousands of miles of road improvements from the proceeds of a lottery and connected games. 

And we know well that billions of dollars of the money that paid for all of that came from the pockets of Alabamians who drove across state lines to play those other states’ games. 

We might be one of the most politically disconnected states in the country, but we know a bad deal when we see one. And we know our current gambling setup was a bad deal. 

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But it didn’t matter. 

Because this state’s government doesn’t have to care what you think. Through a steady diet of gerrymandering, voter suppression and voter disengagement, the Alabama Legislature has essentially insulated itself from voter retribution. 

Just 15 state senators (of 35) blocked the gambling legislation from passing, preventing people from voting to approve that lottery so many voters want. But not a single one of those 15 will pay a price for it. 

Those Republicans (and all 15 were Republicans) know good and well that you’re not going to vote for a Democrat or an independent candidate. And even if some of you did, the straight-ticket voting option in a district so thoroughly gerrymandered would save them anyway. 

They also know that the party isn’t going to back a primary challenger, and might very well pull out every imaginable stop to keep a challenger off the ballot altogether. 

We’ve now blocked crossover voting and have a number of Republicans pushing for closed primaries, hoping to further isolate lawmakers from the wishes of the full constituency they serve. 

It’s a joke. And it has to change before this state will ever improve for the folks in the middle class on down.

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As it stands now, we’ve got a group of lawmakers in the majority party who only truly care about serving themselves and their top donors. Every legislative session is exactly the same: they toss a few meaningless red meat bills out to keep the base and party goobers happy and then spend the rest of the time passing legislation to appease their donors and the groups that might help them achieve higher office or land that lucrative consulting gig. 

Don’t believe me? Forget gambling. 

Look at the freakout over the overtime tax repeal costing “too much,” but nary a peep about the $100 million annually being stolen from public schools to give to private businesses. Or the ease with which economic incentive bills sail through, while health care and mental health care expansion plans languish. 

But I’ll leave you with this: in our surrounding states, workers today will drive using untaxed gas, they’ll eat untaxed groceries, they’ll travel on properly repaired roads, they’re kids will go to properly funded public schools and they’re best and brightest are almost certain to go to college on a scholarship. And they’ll do a lot of it with money that came from this state. 

But hey, the CEO of your company can now get a $7,000-a-year tax break for his kid’s private school. 

Whenever you’d like to stop this, you should. 

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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