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Opinion | Legislature fails to let Alabamians vote on a lottery

Hopefully, for Alabama’s sake, you have not heard the last of this issue.

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The regular Legislative Session ended on May 9, with final passage of both budgets, which is the only constitutionally mandated requirement of the legislature during its annual legislative session.

However, there was another constitutional question that dominated the session – the perennial issue of whether Alabamians will ever be allowed to purchase lottery tickets in Alabama and keep Alabamians money within our state. This money could help educate Alabama children, pave Alabama roads, and remedy the closing of our rural hospitals. However, these Alabama dollars currently are going to our four surrounding states of Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, and Mississippi, who all allow the purchase of lottery tickets. 

Alabama is now one of only four states in America that do not have a lottery. It comes as no surprise that most Alabamians – both Republicans and Democrats – find this absurd. In fact, 80 percent of Alabamians, when polled, say they adamantly want their legislators to vote in favor of simply giving Alabamians the right to vote on whether to keep their lottery dollars at home. This same reliable polling reveals that the Alabamians in favor of a state lottery, also attend church up to two times a week and already gamble on sporting events and drive out of state to purchase lottery tickets. This is especially true of people under 50. 

Today, most Alabamians see nothing irreverent or wrong, much less sinful, about buying a lottery ticket or betting on a football game. What they do find appalling is that their children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews, who are successful in school, could go to college tuition free if they lived next door in Georgia.

Georgia’s Hope Scholarship Program, created 25 years ago through a statewide lottery bill, provides free college education for their students. At this point, Alabamians have educated untold numbers of Georgia students. It is no coincidence the largest outlets for purchasing lottery tickets are located along Georgia’s Alabama border. 

The same holds true along Florida’s Alabama border. The people in Dothan and the Wiregrass, alone, have probably paved most of the roads throughout the panhandle of Florida.

Therefore, the question remains, if 80 percent of Alabamians want the right to vote on a lottery and our state leaders are fully aware that unregulated and untaxed gaming already exists in our state, why did the lottery vote fail yet again during this year’s annual legislative session? Because Special Interests got involved.

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Unfortunately, most of the 140 members of the legislature are being falsely accused. The vast majority voted in favor of allowing Alabamians the right to vote on whether to keep gaming/lottery dollars in Alabama. However, because the creation of a lottery requires a constitutional amendment, a three-fifths vote is needed for the measure to pass. That means 63 votes are needed in the House and 21 votes in the Senate. The bill passed the House comfortably with a 72 to 29 vote but failed in the Senate with a final vote of 20 to 15. While most Senators voted in favor of the bill, it needed one more vote to pass. 

Based on these numbers, 92 of our legislators voted to let Alabamians vote. Only 44 voted to thumb their nose at their constituents. That is a tough vote to defend, and I suppose most of these legislators are being met by irate constituents. These 44 legislators will have to defend their “no” vote in less than two years. Some of these legislators are veterans, who are entrenched for reelection. However, many of the “no” votes came from newly elected first termers, who now run the risk of not being reelected over this indefensible vote. 

Governor Kay Ivey could decide to give these 44 legislators a chance to redeem themselves by calling a Special Session and spotlighting the lottery/gaming vote. However, at this point, I suspect Gov. Ivey is fed up and frustrated with this issue. If that is the case, she could step aside and let the lion of the legislature, Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter, take the bull by the horns. It is possible. Only one vote is needed in the Senate. Believe you me, there are three or four freshman, back-bench senators, who are feeling the heat at home for their “no” vote. 

Gov. Ivey and Speaker Ledbetter are listening to the outcry from Alabamians. Neither are being deterred by special interests. Kay Ivey has built her legacy by being one of the most honest governors in my lifetime. She has always sided with and acted on what is in the best interests of her fellow Alabamians. 

Hopefully, for Alabama’s sake, you have not heard the last of this issue.

See you next week.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.

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