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House Speaker’s Comment Could Signal Shifting Attitude On Alabama Gambling

Written By Derek Helling | Updated:
nathaniel ledbetter listens to a colleague

Regulated gambling in Alabama seems to have a crucial new ally. At the same time, the premise of legalizing some forms of gaming in a state largely bereft of regulated gambling may be more attractive than the actual process.

Speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives, Nathaniel Ledbetter, shared his belief that a lack of regulated gambling will lead to more illicit gaming within the state’s borders. However, addressing that concern could prove to be quite difficult.

Ledbetter gives his take on the lack of legal gambling in Alabama

Currently, the only form of legal gambling in Alabama is a few bingo halls that split their revenues with various charitable organizations. However, that likely means there is a significant amount of illicit gaming in the state.

Ledbetter is not oblivious to that fact. He sees the connection between a lack of regulated gambling and illegal gaming in Alabama. During a recent PBS interview, Ledbetter spoke to that phenomenon:

“I think the most shocking thing to me, we talked about this last time, that there are like 30 illegal operations. By the time we got through, somebody said well maybe there’s 70 now. One county has 67.

What we’re finding is that just about every county has got some illegal gaming operation. The problem with it is now, where we’re at today if we do not do something about it and regulate it, then all we are doing is enabling illegal gambling.

It’s gotten so rampant that until we do something about it, it’s a little scary because it’s almost like a criminal organization that is running these operations. Without true regulations, without a commission to support it and try to stop them, it’s going to continue to grow.

Let’s be honest. There is more out there than what the attorney general can address. I do think that with regulation there ought to be an enforcement piece with that.”

Ledbetter isn’t a lone voice on this issue. He has at least one ally in the upper chamber of the Alabama legislature. His voice carries significant weight on the issue, too.

Welcome support for Alabama senator’s gambling regulation proposals

Over the past two legislative sessions, there has probably been no more vocal advocate of gaming regulation in Alabama than Sen. Greg Albritton. Sen. Albritton has filed legislation toward that end in both sessions.

Additionally, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has expressed that she wants to see the legislature formulate proposals. She has not yet explicitly stated whether she would support gaming-related measures. However, she wants to see the issue put up for the state’s populace to decide.

Albritton’s proposals have lacked support in his own body to date. Voices like Ledbetter’s could help change that narrative. Ledbetter’s support for gaming legislation could be a catalyst for such bills emerging in his chamber.

On this issue more as much as any other, though, the devil will be in the details. Past suggestions have included everything from narrow proposals to broad packages, including commercial land-based casinos and online sports betting.

At the same time, debate on the issue could be fierce, especially for broad proposals. The opposition to gaming bills likely feature moral arguments and the operators of existing bingo halls will likely weigh in on the issue, too.

Proponents of gaming regulation, especially sports wagering, can point to a recent situation involving the University of Alabama’s baseball program as a further example of the effects of a lack of regulated gaming that Ledbetter spoke of. Ledbetter’s comments suggest he is at least open to action on such bills.

For that reason, it seems probable that such legislation will see floor votes in 2024 in the Alabama House. How those votes will go, however, is still very much up in the air.

Photo by Julie Bennett / AP Photo
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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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