Depending on who you ask, recent moves by Alabama lawmakers to create a gaming commission are either meant to bring gambling to Alabama, end illegal gambling, or both.
But whichever reason you might think is driving the proposed gaming commission, one of its proponents, Rep. Andy Whitt, believes something needs to change, and fast.
“I’ve concluded that it’s simply the wild west in Alabama when it comes to gaming,” Whitt told Alabama Daily News this past summer.
Whitt and House Speaker Nathanial Ledbetter are part of a group of legislators examining gaming on an as-needed basis. Both lawmakers have spoken up recently about the need to form a gaming commission to curb the state’s illegal gambling, and both support a gaming bill that would aid in regulation.
Alabama gaming commission backers believe gambling is ‘already here’
Most states make efforts to crack down on illegal gambling. And, whether gaming is legal or not, many small-time shops disregard whatever gaming regulations are in place.
After a speech to the Mobile Chamber earlier this month, Alabama.com noted that Ledbetter told reporters that the state has to fix gambling. “We have to regulate it,” he said. “It’s already here.”
Rep. Chris Blackshear is also a member of the legislative group that Ledbetter and Whitt are in. Blackshear also believes that questioning whether or not Alabama should allow gambling is a moot point because illegal gaming already exists.
“We don’t need to expand gambling, it’s already here,” Blackshear told Alabama Daily News. “Getting a grasp of how many of those exist is also a goal of the group. It’s unregulated, the state is getting no revenue from it and if we don’t get a handle on it now, we never will.”
Opponents say a commission is a backdoor attempt to legalize gaming
Talk of a gaming commission has riled up the state’s anti-gambling groups. Greg Davis, president of anti-gaming organization Alabama Citizens Action Program (ALCAP), said to Alabama.com that the gaming commission idea is just a “smokescreen”—lawmakers just want to legalize gambling.
In a certain sense, Davis is probably right. The gaming commission will likely craft regulations to manage existing gambling operations, legalize it, and then set up a tax revenue system to generate income for the state and, possibly, the local communities where the gaming takes place.
However, regulating existing gaming is a far cry from legalizing the forms of gambling typically found in other states where gaming is lawful. For example, city leaders in Jacksonville, Florida, proposed regulations to allow a certain number of “internet cafes” (a cover for gambling) to operate in the city to regulate them.
Additionally, starting the gaming commission is not a guarantee that full-fledged gaming will come to the state. Alabama is, generally speaking, a conservative state, such that it remains only one of five states that doesn’t have a lottery.
Swaying conservative lawmakers and voters would take a lot of time, money, and effort, and even then, it may not be successful.