Alabama bill SB318 covers retail lottery only, but aims to restart the conversation about casino gaming and sports betting

Alabama Senators Take A Mulligan With Second Lottery Bill, One Week After The First Attempt Failed

Alabama‘s 3.6 million eligible voters could soon be asked to decide on the future of gambling in the state.

On St. Patrick’s day, a state senate committee approved a lottery-only bill, which will now go to the floor for further consideration. A similar bill, but which would have also added up to 10 retail casinos, failed just the week prior.

As of now, only three locations in Alabama offer legal gaming. These tribal casinos, run by Wind Creek Hospitality, only offer only Class II competition-style gaming machines, due to state law. Amending the state constitution could allow the tribal casinos to upgrade to Class III options, which include slots and table games.

At least one of these two things would seem to be a prerequisite for any further gambling expansion in the state. It’s hard to see how either sports betting or online gambling would function in a state with neither an Alabama lottery nor full-featured retail casinos to build off of. Nor would these modern options be a popular suggestion in a state that has yet to approve more traditional forms of gambling.

Casino-only bill is merely a starting point for negotiations

Alabama’s constitutional prohibition on gambling makes any such legislation complicated. This is true even for just a state lottery, which is the scope of the bill approved on Mar. 17 by the Senate Tourism and Marketing Committee.

That said, the bill might include more than just a lottery by the time it makes it to a vote. Tourism Committee Chairman Del Marsh described it as a “vehicle for negotiations,” and suggested that casinos or even sports betting might become part of the conversation again. The same committee simultaneously approved a separate piece of legislation which would establish a gaming commission to regulate a hypothetical retail casino industry.

Ironically, Republicans are both the originators of the first bill and the reason for its failure. Democrats were unanimously in favor of legalization in the 19-13 vote on Mar. 9, with three abstentions. But a split among Republicans caused it to come up shy of the 21 votes needed for constitutional amendments in Alabama.

The new bill is likewise a Republican effort. Sens. Garlan Gudger (R-Cullman) and Jim McClendon (R-Springville) proposed the lottery-only bill on the same day the previous one failed.

Adding in online casino and sports betting options could take time

Alabama senators are on break until Mar. 30. Their session will then resume for two months before concluding on May 30. In a legislative agenda that includes absentee ballot and gun rights bills, the gambling bill may not be a priority.

Even so, Marsh told AL.com on Mar. 17 that he will push for a Senate vote during this session. Taking a line common among states which require referendums on gambling, he frames it as a voters’ rights issue:

“No doubt people want to vote,” Marsh said. “In my opinion it’s at a mandate level.”

McClendon echoed the sentiment, citing polling data that 78% of Alabamians want the right to vote on legalizing gambling. The last time they had the chance was in 1999. They rejected the idea of an Alabama lottery at that time, but the political climate has changed since then.

Recently, a study commissioned by the governor found benefits of expanding legal gambling options outweigh the risks. The research released in December stated a state lottery could generate $300 million annually and allowing non-tribal retail casinos in Alabama could bring that total to $710 million.

The study’s breakdown of that $710 million follows:

  • State Lottery (including iLottery): $300 million
  • Casino Gaming: $400 million
  • Sports Betting (including mobile): $10 million
- Heather Fletcher is the lead writer with OnlinePokerReport. She's a career journalist, with bylines in The New York Times, Adweek and other publications. Reach her at [email protected]
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