Alabama is a hotbed of sports fandom, with college football especially attracting enormous attention every fall. Sports betting, however, is not legal in the state, although it could become so in the near future.
There have been several recent attempts to legalize sports betting in Alabama. Ever since the US Supreme Court ruled that states other than Nevada could offer sports betting, Alabama lawmakers have been entertaining the possibility of doing so.
A House bill to authorize both retail and mobile sports betting was proposed in early 2020, but it stalled in committee. Chances are good that the issue will rise again in the near future. However, it remains to be seen whether any sports betting bill will gather the needed momentum to move further along the legislative process.
What follows is an overview of the current status of sports betting in Alabama. Read on for information about Alabama gambling law and the prospects going forward for sports betting to come to the Yellowhammer State.
Alabama has long taken an antagonistic view toward gambling, favoring the approach of its neighbor to the east, Georgia, over that of Mississippi to the west.
Way back in 1901, the state amended its constitution in order to explicitly declare gambling illegal. In 1971 the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that pari-mutuel wagering on racing at horse and dog racing tracks was permissible. Multiple racetracks opened thereafter, although today all have discontinued live racing.
In 1980 the state’s constitution was amended again to allow charitable bingo games in one county. More amendments over subsequent decades have authorized bingo halls in about a third of the counties in the state. These establishments are allowed to have slots-like electronic bingo devices, legally considered as Class II gaming machines.
Meanwhile Alabama has resisted attempts over the years to introduce a state lottery, making it one of only five states not to have one.
Over the years one of the state’s racetracks, Victoryland in Macon County, has been at the heart of a protracted legal dispute over its hosting of electronic bingo devices. After being closed and reopening several times, Victoryland is now open again with the machines and also simulcasts of races for off-track betting.
Technically speaking, Victoryland might be considered by some a commercial “racino.” That said, the American Gaming Association does not classify Alabama as having any commercial casinos.
For a time, daily fantasy sports providers steered clear of Alabama, particularly after a 2016 opinion from the state’s attorney general declared DFS sites illegal. However thanks to a 2019 bill signed into law by Gov. Kay Ivey, daily fantasy sports is legal in the state and DFS sites like DraftKings, FanDuel and others all serve those in Alabama.
Meanwhile sports betting remains illegal in the state. One sports betting bill proposed by Rep. John Rogers in April 2019 failed to survive beyond committee. In February 2020 an identical bill was proposed, HB 336, once more sponsored by Rogers.
The bill would have allowed mobile sports betting in the state as well as retail sportsbooks at approved locations. Operators would have paid 10% tax on adjusted gross wagering receipts. The bill would also have created a regulatory body called the Alabama Sports Wagering Commission.
But the bill failed to move out of the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee, and sports betting remains illegal for now.
While Alabama has no commercial casinos, there are three tribal casinos in the state. The Poarch Band of Creek Indians operates all three casinos.
The Wind Creek Casino & Hotel Atmore and Wind Creek Casino & Hotel Montgomery are both located in the center of the state near Montgomery. The Wind Creek Casino & Hotel Wetumpka is located in the southwestern corner of Alabama, closer to Mobile.
Each of these tribal casinos has Class II gaming only. That means no “Vegas”-style casino games such as slots, roulette, blackjack or craps.
Unlike other states that moved quickly to legalize sports betting following the 2018 US Supreme Court ruling, Alabama has shown relatively little enthusiasm to consider doing the same.
If a bill were introduced in 2021 and it received enough support to be passed by both chambers and signed into law by the governor, that process would likely take most of the year. The need for regulators to finalize rules and the licensing process would add more time, likely making 2022 the earliest that legal sports betting could come to Alabama.
The most recent sports betting legislation would have imposed limits both on the number of sports betting licenses that could be issued and the type of location where sports betting could be offered.
According to the bill, seven licenses could be issued to any facility where pari-mutuel wagering is authorized. The bill did not mention the state’s three tribal casinos as possible locations for retail sportsbooks.
The licenses would also permit license holders to offer sports betting via “mobile application or other digital platforms.”
Having an online option available would significantly enhance sports betting in Alabama, making what might be a small number of retail sportsbooks less of a hindrance. In states where both retail and mobile sports betting is legal, the mobile option uniformly draws more traffic and produces more revenue. In some legal states, online revenue comprises 80% or more of the total sports betting revenue.
A different sports betting bill could follow the path forged by Tennessee and offer only mobile sports betting, without any retail sportsbooks at all. The paucity of live, legal gambling in Alabama might make such an alternative seem attractive.
Should Alabama make online sports betting legal, there are several operators that would likely be interested in getting involved. Some of these include:
None at present. Should the state legalize sports betting, expect sportsbooks to accept wagers on a variety of professional and collegiate sports. Most feature markets covering the following American and international sports:
Alabama has several minor league professional sports teams, but no major league franchises.
That said, with Tennessee to the north, Georgia to the east, and Florida to the south, there are plenty of pro sports teams for Alabamans to root for in neighboring states.
Of course, college sports reign supreme in Alabama, particularly football. The state has five universities with college football programs competing in the NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (the highest level):
The SEC schools garner the most attention, especially the Alabama Crimson Tide, which has claimed 17 national titles including four during the 2010s. The Auburn Tigers also have two national titles in football, the latest coming in 2010.
These same five schools compete in NCAA Division I basketball as well, as do the following schools:
Some states restrict sports bettors from betting on in-state collegiate teams. The latest sports betting bill proposed in Alabama included no restriction. Nor did it mention disallowing prop betting or live betting on college sports, a prohibition that does come up in some states’ sports betting laws.
It would seem likely that if sports betting were to be legalized in Alabama, betting on Alabama college sports teams would be permitted given the prominence of college sports in the state.
As noted above, in 1971 the state legalized pari-mutuel wagering on horse and dog racing. For a time the state featured multiple popular racetracks, although all have discontinued offering live racing. The last to do so was the Birmingham Race Course, whose last greyhound race was run in March 2020.
There are off-track betting facilities in the state, each of which has simulcast races on which patrons can wager. Alabamans can also bet on horse and dog races online at popular sites such as:
Once sportsbooks do arrive in Alabama, they will offer bettors a variety of ways to bet on their favorite sports. The most popular types of sports bets include:
The minimum age for pari-mutuel wagering in Alabama is 18 years old. The minimum age for gambling in one of the state’s three tribal casinos is 21 years old.
Given the state’s conservative history vis-à-vis gambling, it would seem likely for 21 to be the minimum age for sports betting, should it become legal.
Alabama lawmakers have discussed the possibility of legalizing online sportsbooks. If they were to become legal, there would be a variety of secure ways both to deposit and withdraw funds. Most online sportsbooks allow for some or all of the following banking methods:
States with retail casinos that partner with online sportsbooks also allow users to deposit and withdraw funds at the casino’s cashier cage.
Should Alabama legalize sports betting, a regulatory body would need to be created to oversee it. Recent legislation described the creation of such a body and its obligations, naming it the Alabama Sports Wagering Commission.