AP NEWS

Alabama lawmakers head toward lottery vote

April 19, 2019

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Lawmakers are headed to a vote on lottery legislation next week, as supporters aim to change Alabama’s status as one of the few states without the games.

The Senate Tourism and Marketing Committee is scheduled to vote Tuesday on one of two rival lottery proposals introduced this session. Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh said his hope is to get a bill before the full Senate on Thursday. If a bill is approved by both chambers, the proposal would go before Alabama voters.

“I honestly think we are going to pass a bill,” Marsh told The Associated Press when asked to gauge the outlook for the legislation. “I really believe the people of the state want a chance to vote on it.”

The Senate committee, which Marsh chairs, is scheduled to consider a bill by Republican Sen. Greg Albritton of Atmore that would limit a lottery to paper tickets. A rival bill by Republican Sen. Jim McClendon, which would also allow electronic games at state dog tracks, was not listed on the committee agenda.

Albritton said he wants to limit games to a “paper lottery” because he said that is what most people envision when they think of a lottery instead of the video terminal. He said he was cautiously optimistic, but said the bill was not a “slam dunk.”

“Now that Mississippi and everyone else around us has a lottery, it’s difficult for us to face our constituents and say, “No we are not going to let you have a lottery,” Albritton said.

McClendon said he was disappointed that his bill was not scheduled for a vote, meaning it is likely dead for the session.

“My bill, number one, makes more money — a lot more money — and it creates a lot more jobs for the state of Alabama,” he said.

The Legislative Service Agency, which calculates how much revenue bills will generate, estimates a paper lottery would produce $166.7 million annually. The office estimates McClendon’s bill would generate $237 million.

The lottery debate will reignite longstanding disputes over who can operate electronic gambling machines in the state and concerns about the consequences for existing gambling operations if state gambling law is changed.

Some lawmakers have sought to ensure that state dog tracks can have video lottery terminals.

In recent years, the state has seized electronic bingo machines at the tracks, arguing the slot machine lookalikes are not what was intended by state laws authorizing bingo. The Poarch Band of Creek Indians offer nearly identical games at three casinos in the state but the tribe does not fall under state jurisdiction.

Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, said he is concerned about the impact on his district where he said bingo operations provided needed jobs and revenue in Greene County. He said he filed a separate bill to try to protect the bingo operations and will also seek changes to Albritton’s legislation.

“I am not against a lottery passing. I am absolutely for it. But it has to be the best lottery bill,” Singleton said.

If approved by the Senate, the lottery bill will then move to the Alabama House of Representatives.

House Speaker Mac McCutcheon said Friday that representatives are in a “wait and see mode” to see what comes out of the Senate.

Alabama is one of five states — along with Utah, Alaska, Hawaii, and Nevada — without a state lottery.

State voters in 1999 rejected a lottery proposed by then-Gov. Don Siegelman.

Former Gov. Robert Bentley in 2016 unsuccessfully proposed a state lottery in response to a state budget crisis.

The Alabama Senate approved a lottery bill that year, but the support fell apart after the House of Representatives added language limiting the games to paper tickets so that video lottery terminals would not be allowed.

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