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Alabama Legislators Will Try To Hash Out Differences On Gambling Regulation

Written By Derek Helling | Updated:
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While a running theme in workplace discourse is the “meeting that could have been an email” line, sometimes, face-to-face is still the only way to address a situation. That’s the approach Alabama legislators are taking to gambling regulation.

Both of the chambers of the Alabama legislature have approved gambling expansion bills recently. However, those proposals look very different depending on which version you consider. As they have to present a unified vision to Gov. Kay Ivey and voters in the state, there are many details to iron out.

A group of Alabama representatives and senators are taking on that very task soon. Whether their efforts will actually produce a single proposition or merely set the stage for more deliberation in 2025 is uncertain, though.

A conference committee will work on a compromise

In Alabama, the legislature has two components; the House of Representatives and the Senate. Those bodies do not act as completely disconnected entities. Rather, their members can collaborate on legislation. A conference committee is part of that cooperation.

These committees are equally composed of members of each chamber and come together to discuss specific pieces of legislation. This type of meeting is most common when the two chambers approve their versions of bills on similar issues that substantially differ from each other.

In essence, instead of letting both versions of the legislation pass into oblivion, the legislators come together to try to work out a compromise. That doesn’t always work out but in these instances, the only other option is to give up on the idea altogether.

This is the exact circumstance that Alabama’s legislature finds itself in when it pertains to gambling expansion.

The points of contention for Alabama gambling expansion

The Alabama House took the lead when it came to approving gambling expansion proposals in 2024. HB 151 and HB 152 represented a package that would amend the Alabama Constitution (with voter approval) to allow for multiple types of new gambling in the state. The package also included implementation legislation should voters authorize the changes.

The Alabama Senate then took HB 151 and HB 152 and cut many elements from the package. Most notably, the Senate versions of this package removed language putting the question to voters of the legality of commercial casino gaming and sports betting.

The Senate-approved version limited gaming expansion to a state lottery and up to three tribal casinos within Alabama. The House rejected simply approving that scaled-down package and instead voted to send the bills to the conference committee.

Will Alabamans vote on gambling expansion this year?

According to Kim Chandler of the Associated Press, there is some pessimism around that committee’s ability to produce one package of bills that will get sent to Gov. Kay Ivey and the state’s voters. Chandler reports that Alabama Rep. Chris Blackshear, who sponsored the House bills, “acknowledged that there is a vast difference between what the two chambers approved.”

Alabama Sen. Greg Albritton, one of the most vocal supporters of gambling expansion in that body, commented that “the optimism is gone” and that although “there is plenty of middle ground…what we are battling is entrenchment.”

If the conference committee can’t work out a compromise, the chances of Alabamans voting on a potential constitutional amendment in 2024 become rather slim. Without a substitute from the conference committee, one of the bodies would have to approve the version the other sent over without any changes.

In this instance, a strong show of support for a substitute from the conference committee will be especially crucial. Because the package includes a potential amendment to the state constitution, a framework that everyone can get on board with is vital.

Higher bar for gambling expansion package to clear

In Alabama, amending the state constitution is a tiered process. Both chambers of the legislature must approve a possible amendment by a 3/5 majority. In the House of Representatives, that means at least 63 of 105 members must vote in favor. In the Alabama Senate, that threshold is 21 of 35 votes.

From there, the potential amendment needs a simple majority (50% plus one) of voters in the state to become part of the constitution. Proposed amendments never get to the state’s populace unless they receive that 3/5 approval from the legislature, though.

For that reason, the conference committee has the task of creating a proposal that not only can its immediate members agree on but that the vast majority of Alabama legislators will support as well. That adds a degree of difficulty.

Proponents like Albritton and Blackshear may have allies outside of Montgomery. At the same time, the voracity of those allies’ efforts may hinge on what a substitute bill would include.

Alabama gambling interests could be in “wait and see” mode

Gambling companies have lobbyists and public relations staff at their disposal to try to bend the ears of legislators across the country. Whether they might devote any of those resources to Alabama might depend on their perceived return on those investments.

If online sports betting is completely off the board, for example, then there is little reason for companies like BetMGM and FanDuel to deploy their assets in Montgomery. If commercial casinos are on the table, however, entities like Bally’s and Caesars Entertainment may take interest.

It’s unclear how much of a read these companies have on the mood in Montgomery, though. They might be content to simply wait and see whether the conference committee produces a substitute and then respond accordingly.

The same might apply to more local interests as well. If the owners of Alabama dog racing tracks or the Poarch Band of Creek Indians see that a unified proposal includes opportunities for them, they might try to use any sway they have to advance those interests.

Conversely, a proposal that would exclude any of these stakeholders might see active opposition. Ultimately, the path to a solution that pleases everyone involved seems narrow in Alabama. Regardless, the conference committee is going to at least begin to walk that path.

Photo by AP Photo/Dave Martin
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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is the assistant managing editor of PlayUSA. Helling focuses on breaking news, including finance, regulation, and technology in the gaming industry. Helling completed his journalism degree at the University of Iowa and resides in Chicago

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