Alabama Gambling, Lottery Bill Stalls Out in House Without a Vote

Alabama Gambling, Lottery Bill Stalls Out in House Without a Vote
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An Alabama gaming bill that included sports betting, casino-style gambling and a state lottery appear unlikely to pass after it stalled out in the House of Representatives on Thursday.

Despite negotiations that spanned into the night, the legislation never came to a vote. Republicans eventually pushed to bring a lottery-only bill to the floor, but it did not have the support of the Democrats.

The final 2021 legislative session in Alabama will be May 17, but House Speaker Mac McCutcheon is not optimistic about the bill’s chances of passing.

“Tensions were high because people have been working so hard,” he told reporters Thursday. “Everybody was just really upset at the way things were. There was no effort to pull anything behind anybody’s back. We were trying to get a bill on the floor.

“It’s going to be difficult to get it passed now, at such a late date.”

McCutcheon mentioned one of the points of debate was how the money from the bill would be used. Democrats sought out more specific language that the revenue would be used to expand Medicaid, while Republicans oppose Medicaid expansion.

Democrats also were concerned the bill would force the closure of the electronic bingo machines in Green and Lowndes counties.

Final push for Lottery

When it became evident the bill was short of votes, Republicans proposed a lottery-only bill late in the session. The bill surprised Democrats.

"We weren’t privy to those particular conversations on our side of the aisle,” House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels said. “That was something that was quite disturbing. It was a surprise to us, just like it was a surprise to most members in the chamber.

“I want to be able to have conversations tomorrow to figure out where we are. I’m not with throwing the situation to the side but remain optimistic about something being done about creating a new revenue source for Alabama in the future.”

McCutcheon saw the lottery-only bill as a last-second effort to give residents in Alabama one piece of gaming legislature to vote on. Residents in the state last voted on a state lottery in 1999 and rejected the proposal. Alabama is currently only one of five states without a lottery.

"That was our last resort tonight, to try to get the people an opportunity to vote on a lottery,” McCutcheon said of the lottery-only bill.

Prominent People Speak Out

If the bill, which took a while to get this far, were to pass, the Legislative Services Agency estimated a state lottery in Alabama would generate $200 to $300 million a year with casinos raising between $300 and $400 million. The bill would have distributed 40% of the revenue from casinos and sports wagering to support health care services.

The original legislation set out to establish a lottery, college scholarships and casinos at existing dog tracks in the state. According to the bill, casinos would be located at The Crossing at Big Creek in Houston County, VictoryLand dog track in Macon County, the Birmingham Race Course in Birmingham, Greenetrack dog track in Greene County, and Mobile Greyhound Park in Mobile. The Poarch Band of Creek Indians would also feature casinos at its three locations, while a final bid for a north Alabama site will go to Jackson or DeKalb counties.

Before Thursday’s session, two prominent political figures spoke out, including Gov. Kay Ivey, who gave her support for the bill.

"This has been a long, complex process, and I have stayed highly engaged because this is too important of an issue not to get it right,” Ivey said. “I am pleased that after many discussions with the Legislature, I believe we have found a path forward to once and for all address gambling in Alabama.”

On the other side, Donald Trump Jr., the son of former president Donald Trump, spelled out his opposition Wednesday on Twitter, calling the piece of legislation a “bad bill."

His tweet read: “If you’re gonna legalize gambling, actually legalize it, but giving a monopoly to a small group of casino bosses is just a special interest giveaway. This bill would stop the world’s best gaming operators from opening world-class Resorts & Casinos in Alabama!”

If approved, the amendment would go before the state’s voters in the November 2022 election.