State lottery, slots, sports betting, and table games are one step closer to a possible future reality in Alabama. On Wednesday afternoon, a state Senate committee advanced an Alabama gambling amendment proposal and an accompanying bill.
Although the road ahead is still long, it marks an important milestone in a state with almost no legal forms of gambling today. If it can carry the momentum forward, voters in the state could have their say on many matters this fall.
Alabama gambling amendment takes a preliminary but important step
On Wednesday, the Alabama Senate Tourism Committee met to consider three pieces of legislation. It spent the vast majority of that time on SB 293 and SB 294. Those resolutions are connected, and both deal with gaming in the state. Alabama Sen. Greg Albritton introduced both.
SB 293 is a potential amendment to the state’s constitution. It would do several things, like:
- Allow the state to form a gambling compact with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians for a full casino
- Authorize a state lottery
- Create an Alabama Education Lottery and Gambling Commission
- Install two smaller satellite gaming operations
- License four commercial casinos
- Legalize online and retail sports betting in Alabama
SB 294 is a bill that would implement those changes should the amendment become part of the state’s constitution. For example, it sets a 20% tax rate on all revenue from commercial casinos in the state and sets qualifications for members of the commission.
Before the Committee moved on either proposal, many testified in opposition to them. Much of that opposition’s testimony focused on a provision that said “picks losers and winners” in the state.
Testimony rails against Alabama casino licensing structure
SB 293 wouldn’t create a competitive bidding process for the state’s four commercial casinos. It explicitly states which entities in the state would receive licenses to offer the full array of gaming, including poker, slots, sports betting, and table games. The Alabama casinos up for licenses are:
- Birmingham 8 Race Course in Jefferson County
- Greenetrack in Greene County
- Mobile County Greyhound 10 Racing in Mobile County
- VictoryLand in Macon County
Opponents of the bill stated a preference for an open bidding process for licenses instead. Operators of electronic bingo halls in other parts of the state and leaders in those communities expressed fear that the current structure would harm their businesses.
After the testimony, Albritton himself spoke to the Committee. He introduced an amendment of his own to SB 293 while members of the Committee did the same for SB 294. Ultimately, it was a good day for Albritton.
Committee amends and approves Albritton’s proposals
Albritton’s amendment to SB 293 earmarked one-half of one percent of the gaming tax revenue, later, for disbursement to the state’s county sheriff departments. With that amendment in place, the Committee gave the amendment proposal a favorable report.
Committee members then added two amendments to SB 294. One inserted language requiring the mental health services funding to address underserved areas in the state. A second created a flat tax rate of 7.5% for retail lottery sales.
Again, with those amendments in place, the Committee gave the bill a favorable report. The bill now proceeds to the full Alabama Senate floor for consideration. It’s unclear when the proposals may come upon the body’s calendar.
Given that Albritton introduced the proposals less than a week ago, that consideration could come quickly. This chamber has been the more friendly to gaming legislation. Last year, the Alabama Senate passed a similar proposal to legalize casino gaming and create a lottery.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has stated she would support such legislation if it reached her. Getting it through the state House of Representatives might prove more difficult, though. Last year, the Senate proposal died in that body.
Naturally, the most important vote could be that which would happen at the ballot box statewide this fall if it does get through the legislature. For the moment, that’s looking like a real possibility.