Gambling Expansion in Alabama

The expansion of gambling passed a hurdle in the Senate last night. After negotiating privately for two weeks, the Senate debated and passed their version of gambling bills in a substitute to HB 151 and HB 152. The Senate bills attempted to create a “clean lottery” bill and pull out some of the corruption from the House legislation, but there are many problems left with what passed the upper chamber. API has been busy analyzing the bills, the substitutes, and impact of possible and offered amendments. As I remarked to one of the Senators who articulated to me that he thought that the Senate version was “the most conservative set of gambling bills that have ever been considered”, that is an oxymoron.

Though their stated aim was to limit the number of casinos in the state, the net effect of the legislation is the legalization of seven specific casinos that have been illegally operating, an expansion of government with the creation of an appointed gambling commission that has the ability to change the definition of gambling themselves, and the creation of a state-operated lottery whose stated goal is to maximize profits. 

In addition, the bills require the Governor to negotiate a contract with the Poarch Creek Indian tribe. 
The compact could allow for Vegas-style gambling at existing casinos across the state and could also provide for other locations if the tribe requests and receives approval from the Department of Interior for additional tribal lands. The Senate also changed the date of a possible vote of the people for this casino legalization/expansion bill to a special election on Sept. 10th of this year.  

Of note: these gambling bills still show little/no consideration for the negative societal impact they will certainly bring. There is only a maximum of $200,000 (if there are at least that amount of unclaimed lottery prizes) specified for aiding those caught in the problem gambling that the state will now be tasked with promoting.

Also of note: Revenue from gambling through the monetary losses of fellow citizens won’t be designated for scholarships for anyone’s kids or grandkids. The money will be separated into thirds (General Fund, Education Trust Fund, and AL Department of Transportation projects) and put into the queue for legislative appropriation. In other words, the money will be used to fund whatever the legislature wants and will further expand the power and scope of state government. 

Senate Republicans split their vote: 12 Republicans voted NO or abstained on both bills. 15 Republicans joined with all 7 Senate Democrats to vote for the expansion and legalization. The Republican/Democrat coalition added up to 22 YES votes. There were 21 votes needed, so the bills passed the Senate.

However, the legislative debate isn’t over as the bills must return to the House for concurrence. If/when the House disagrees with Senate changes, a conference committee develops a compromise bill. That new bill would then have to be approved by both houses. Stay tuned and let us know if you’re interested in more detail about the bills or the process.

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