Alabama Gambling Proposal Clears First Hurdle

An Alabama Senate committee approved a plan for five new casinos, two satellite casinos, sports betting, a lottery, and a state commission to govern gaming last week. After a public hearing, the Tourism Committee voted 9-1 to support the two-bill package. This places it on the Senate’s agenda for a vote.

The voting took place today following a public hearing in which around eight individuals spoke out against the idea. Some people were against it because it will close or reduce electronic bingo businesses in Greene and Lowndes counties, which offer employment and money in those areas. Others argue that gambling is bad public policy because it harms the poor and produces societal issues such as addiction.

What do Lawmakers Think of the Proposal?

Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Atmore, is the author of the measures. When Albritton revealed the idea last week, he said that Alabama needs statewide gaming regulation since the state now gets neither tax income nor profit from gambling.

Today, Albritton reaffirmed those remarks. He claims that the lottery, which would fund school scholarships, is the sole increase of gambling in his program.

The proposal is identical to one that passed the Senate last year but did not get enough support in the House of Representatives to be considered for a vote. If three-fifths of senators and representatives vote in favor of the bill, it will be placed on the ballot for voters to decide.

What will the Bill Do?

It will create a lottery for education in Alabama. It will create a gambling commission that would issue a single license to casinos at Greenetrack in Greene County, Birmingham Race Course, Victoryland in Macon County, the Mobile County Greyhound Racing Facility, and a casino operated by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians in either DeKalb or Jackson counties as part of a compact between the governor and the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.

In Houston and Lowndes counties, satellite casinos with a restricted number of electronic games are permitted. It will also impose a 20% tax on casinos’ and sports betting’s net gambling income.

How Has Gambling Proceeded in the State Before?

Since Gov. Don Siegelman’s idea was defeated in 1999, Alabama voters have not had the opportunity to vote on a lottery. There are lotteries in 45 states, including the four that border Alabama. Albritton anticipates his bill to be heard in the Senate next week, according to him.

Albritton’s proposal will increase gaming, according to Joe Godfrey, executive director of the Alabama Citizens Action Program, which campaigns on behalf of churches and opposes gambling measures and bills to extend the availability of alcohol.

According to Godfrey, a deal between the governor and the Poarch Band would enable the tribe to add a complete variety of casino games to its three electronic bingo casinos in Atmore, Wetumpka, and Montgomery, as well as the new casino in northwest Alabama.

Albritton stated that his plan would limit the number of casinos in the state and give local governments control over the electronic bingo casinos that currently operate under local constitutional amendments, despite the fact that the Alabama Supreme Court has ruled that electronic bingo machines are illegal slot machines.

What Does the Proposal Look Like?

Albritton’s proposal would shut down the other electronic bingo casinos that give income to the county and cities, despite the fact that Greenetrack in Greene County is designated as one of the casinos.

Forkland Mayor Charles McAlpine estimated that his community of 700 residents would lose nearly a third of its income, affecting police, the court, and senior citizen services. One of the bingo enterprises in Greene County that would shut is represented by lobbyist Ryan DeGraffenried Jr. DeGraffenried said the company employs 70 people and is set to establish a new, bigger facility with more than 200 workers, two restaurants, and a music venue.

Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, chairman of the Tourism Committee, expressed optimism that the idea would pass through the legislature and be put to the people.

Marsh has previously supported lottery and casino legislation, including one last year. He claims that there is no problem that residents in his area are more concerned about. Senator Garlan Gudger, R-Cullman, was the lone negative vote on the Tourism Committee.

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