Alabama Senate Changes Course on Casino, Sports Betting Expansion

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The Alabama Senate took a significant step towards legalizing gambling in the state on Tuesday, but with a much more limited scope than what the House of Representatives had envisioned. A Senate committee approved a scaled-down version of gambling legislation that would allow a lottery but restrict other forms of gambling and sports betting.

Losing Traction

The legislation represents a dramatic shift from the comprehensive bill passed by the Alabama House on February 15. That version would have not only legalized a lottery but also authorized sports betting and up to seven new casinos. The Senate committee's plan removes these more expansive measures, focusing solely on lotteries and existing facilities.

One key change involves the timing of voter approval. The Senate plan pushes back the public vote on a constitutional amendment to September 10th through a special election. This differs from the House proposal, which tied the vote to the general election in November.

According to Senator Greg Albritton, the sponsor of the Senate bill, these changes aim to garner enough support for passage. Albritton argues that the legislation would establish a framework for regulating and taxing gambling, replacing the current system reliant on a patchwork of local amendments.

Revenue generated from the lottery and other authorized gambling activities would be directed to the state General Fund until March 30th, 2029. After that date, the funds would be split three ways: one-third each for education, the General Fund, and roads and bridges.

Senator Albritton cited concerns about potential negative impacts on young people as the primary reason for removing sports betting from the proposal.

Tribal Gaming Could Expand

The proposed legislation establishes a gaming commission with an enforcement arm. Albritton emphasized that this would allow the state to exert control over the gambling industry, a key objective. He explained that the goal is to "capture, control, and regulate" gambling activities, while setting up an enforcement division to ensure compliance.

Under this plan, existing local gambling amendments would be nullified, and new ones would be prohibited. Gambling would be restricted to specific locations, including existing racetracks in four counties (Greene, Jefferson, Macon and Mobile) with an additional Greene County location. Bingo halls in Houston County and the town of White Hall (Lowndes County) would also be authorized.

These facilities could offer pari-mutuel betting on horse and dog races via simulcasts, along with betting on historical racing machines. Importantly, electronic bingo and traditional casino games would be explicitly banned.

The legislation includes a provision allowing the governor to negotiate with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. A successful negotiation could potentially grant the tribe the right to offer full casino games at their existing facilities in Atmore, Wetumpka and Montgomery, which currently offer electronic bingo.

Waiting on the Senate

The Senate Tourism Committee approved the bill without a recorded vote. Now, it goes before the full Senate, where it needs a supermajority (21 out of 35 votes) to pass due to the constitutional amendment requirement.

If successful in the Senate, the legislation would return to the House due to the alterations made. The House would then have the option to accept the Senate's version, leading to its enactment. However, if the House disagrees with the changes, a conference committee would be formed to reconcile the two versions and reach a compromise.

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