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Alabama House Passes Sports Betting, Casino, Lottery Legislation To Senate

Written By Matthew Kredell on February 15, 2024 - Last Updated on February 16, 2024
Alabama State House

One half of one of the most-conservative legislatures in the nation approved legislation Thursday to embrace legal and regulated gambling.

The Alabama House voted 70-32 (HB 151) and 67-31-1 (HB 152) to legalize Alabama sports betting, casinos and lottery. If the Senate approves, Alabama voters will have the chance to decide whether they want gambling in the November election. Gov. Kay Ivey backs the expansion.

Alabama is one of just six states in the nation without any form of legal lottery, retail casinos or sports betting.

Despite its conservative reputation, the Alabama House easily approved the gambling expansion. Passing the bill to amend the state constitution required 63 votes, three-fifths of House membership.

The Alabama House passed the bills only about one week after introducing them and one day after committee passage. Floor discussion took nearly four hours.

How conservative Alabama is embracing gambling expansion

How does a state like Alabama suddenly embrace gambling?

Here are the main arguments made in favor of the gambling expansion on the House floor.

Illegal gambling already is going on in Alabama

Gambling was made illegal in Alabama in the 1901 state constitution. But gambling is still going on in Alabama, both legally and illegally.

Rep. Andy Whitt, who sponsored the bills, said he toured the state last year and saw the illegal gambling occurring all around.

“What I’ve seen across the state as I’ve toured your districts is an absolute disaster and it should make every legislator in here feel ashamed that this is allowed in the state of Alabama and it’s currently going on today in, I guarantee, all 67 counties. It’s time that we run the bad actors out of the state of Alabama for good.”

Legal gambling will replace much of the illegal market. But the legislation also creates a Gaming Enforcement Division to go after illegal gaming in the state.

It increases fines and penalties for illegal gambling, from misdemeanors to felonies, and establishes eight new gaming crimes, all felonies. Penalties and fines increase with each occurrence.

Local jurisdictions have made constitutional amendments to allow electronic bingo. This legislation repeals all previous local constitutional amendments and prohibits such constitutional amendments going forward, ensuring a uniform gambling market across the state.

Other states are benefiting from Alabama’s prohibition

Alabamaians are already crossing state lines to go to casinos, play the lottery, and bet on sports. And those states are reaping the benefits.

“We have so many of our constituents that travel to the state line, outside the state, for lottery tickets, to go gaming,” Rep. Rolanda Hollis said. “And when they do this, it puts so much money into the other states. We’re putting kids through other states through schools, we’re doing their infrastructure.”

Their constituents want the choice to gamble

Alabama legislators said they want to give their constituents the right to vote.

“I’m not here to legalize or provide a moral compass for anybody,” Rep. Juandalynn Givan said. “That’s not my role as a lawmaker. But I stand here representing a constituency base that I listen to. … I’m not here to argue morality. I’m here to argue democracy.”

Rep. Jim Hill said a prohibition on gambling shouldn’t be set in stone just because it was in the 1901 constitution. He stated that the constitution included many things he didn’t like that have since been overturned, including not giving women the right to vote.

“People need the right to decide how they live their lives,” Hill said. “People need the right to decide how they spend their own money. I think amending the constitution to give people the right to do that is a positive thing.”

Sponsor Rep. Chris Blackshear summed up the reasons to support his bills:

“One, we have gambling in Alabama today. Two, we have illegal sportsbooks, gambling halls, casinos and more. It’s not capped, it’s not controlled or taxed in any way whatsoever. The final point I’d like to make is the people want to vote on this.”

Details of Alabama gambling bills

House Bill 151 amends the constitutional amendment to allow for casinos, sports betting and lottery, and HB 152 provides the implementation language. The bills would:

  • Establish the Alabama Gaming Commission and Alabama Lottery Corp.
  • Allow for up to 10 casinos, six open to a competitive bidding process with a minimum bid of $5 million and no cap.
  • Set a 15-year time frame for the initial license.
  • Allow the commission the flexibility to extend the license beyond 15 years for companies that invest $500 million or more into the project.
  • Require construction to begin within 12 months of receiving a license.
  • Locate the six competitive bid casino licenses in Greene, Houston, Jefferson (Birmingham City), Lowndes, Macon and Mobile counties.
  • Set the casino gaming tax rate at 24%.
  • Require the governor to negotiate a Class III gaming compact with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.
  • Allow PCI to operate an additional casino in northeast Alabama, outside tribal lands.
  • Create separate retail and online sports betting licenses. Allows each casino to apply for a retail sports betting license. Sports betting operators can apply for an untethered online sports betting license.
  • Sets the Alabama sports betting tax rate at 17%.
  • Provides the commission leeway to determine the sports betting licensing fee and decide how many licenses to award.
  • Allows Talladega Superspeedway to acquire a temporary three- or four-day sports wagering license for events.

The only amendment added on the House floor came from Rep. Matt Simpson. It was a technical amendment ensuring that casinos stay in the seven counties laid out in the bill. Blackshear supported its addition.

Alabama gambling opponents speak up

In a Bible Belt state that has opposed gambling for so long, many legislators spoke against the expansion.

Rep. Jim Carns said Alabama would regret this gambling expansion in 10 or 15 years.

“This has come up dozens of times over the last 20 years. This one, to grab a phrase from [Alabama football] Coach [Nick] Saban, is full of rat poison. … We’ve already established that gambling causes social problems in the state of Alabama. Gambling takes money from the commerce in the state of Alabama and puts it into the hands of a group of people that will probably take the profits to another state.”

Rep. Mark Gidley countered the narrative that constituents want to expand gambling.

“I’ve been overwhelmed by people who have asked me to vote no on this bill in my district,” Gidley said.

Rep. John Rogers said his opposition was based on the legislation not including any language ensuring the participation of minority-owned businesses.

“My concern is a guarantee that my folks who look like me have a fair shot at being part of the business, and right now this bill doesn’t address that.”

Blackshear said he didn’t think it was fair to pick winners and losers in the bill and questioned the legality of requiring minority participation.

Alabama Senate has passed gambling expansion bills before

Getting approval on a gambling expansion from the Alabama House is a massive change in precedent.

The Alabama Senate passed legislation to legalize casinos and a state lottery in 2021. The House stripped and rejected the bill.

Many Senate members have changed since that vote, but Whitt told PlayUSA he is optimistic about the bills getting through the Senate.

“There will be strong special interest opposition as there was in the House, but I feel very optimistic about its passage. We’ve had some turnover, but I like my chances.”

Sen. Greg Albritton will champion the bills in the Senate. With more than 150 pages in the legislation and such a massive expansion, the Senate likely will want to make changes, leading to a conference committee. The Alabama legislature adjourns May 20.

Photo by PlayUSA
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Written by
Matthew Kredell

Matthew Kredell serves as senior lead writer of legislative affairs involving online gambling at PlayUSA. He began covering efforts to legalize and regulate online gambling in 2007 after federal passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act disrupted his hobby of playing small-stakes online poker. He has since interviewed more than 300 lawmakers around the country and written extensively about online gambling legislation. He has led coverage of bills to legalize online gambling in most states. A lifelong Angeleno and USC journalism alum, Matthew started his career working as a sportswriter for a decade at the Los Angeles Daily News. He has written on a variety of topics for Playboy Magazine, Men’s Journal, Los Angeles magazine, LA Weekly and ESPN.com.

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