Posted on: November 16, 2023, 08:58h.
Last updated on: November 16, 2023, 08:59h.
Gaming bills in Alabama have been considered in recent legislative years, but the odds of legislation passing in Montgomery next year are perhaps better than ever. That’s because a powerful lawmaker says it’s time to authorize casinos in order to protect the many Alabamans who are already participating in gambling activities.
The Alabama Legislature convenes in March 2024. House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville) hopes next year will finally be when lawmakers get behind a gaming measure in order to provide consumer protections.
Ledbetter has been campaigning for legalized gambling since 2021. He says many Alabamans are already gambling, whether it be in neighboring states like Mississippi, via the internet on offshore gaming websites, or with underground bookies and gambling rings.
“We don’t have hundreds of illegal gambling operations. We probably have more than a thousand. They’re all over the state, in every county, everywhere you go. People are selling drugs around some of these places. We have some serious criminal activity around them,” Ledbetter told the Alabama Political Reporter.
Gaming bills have been introduced in nearly each of the previous 20 legislative sessions. The GOP holds significant majorities in each legislative chamber, with 77 of the 105 House seats and 27 of the 34 Senate seats.
Regulatory Framework Needed
Ledbetter said in September that the Alabama Legislature should legalize casinos in order to protect consumers and rid out illegal operations.
If we don’t do something about it and regulate it, then all we are doing is enabling illegal gambling,” Ledbetter said in September during an appearance on Capital Journal.
Ledbetter says he’ll work with House lawmakers in crafting a gaming bill. He expects it to be similar to the one introduced in 2021 and 2022 by Sen. Greg Albritton (R-Atmore). Those bills sought to legalize a state-run lottery and allow as many as nine casinos.
While Ledbetter says he believes there’s adequate support in Montgomery for a gaming bill to pass, how to go about bringing gambling to the Cotton State is where things get contentious.
Alabama is home to one federally recognized tribe — the Poarch Band of Creek Indians — which operates three Native American casinos in Alabama. But since the state has refused to enter into a Class III gaming compact with the tribe to allow its Wind Creek casinos to offer Las Vegas-style slot machines, table games, and possibly sports betting, the gaming venues in Atmore, Montgomery, and Wetumpka only offer bingo-based electronic gaming.
The Poarch Indians want the exclusive rights to operate slots and table games if Alabama legalizes commercial gaming. But gaming interests outside the state have lobbied heavily for lawmakers to welcome in gaming developers and operators. That’s led to a stalemate.
The Alabama Constitution prohibits commercial gaming and lottery games. For that to change, voters would need to sign off on any gaming law the Legislature passes through a statewide referendum.
“We just can’t let this go on any longer,” Ledbetter concluded. “It’s a public safety issue. People want to push back against this by saying we’re expanding gambling, but that’s absolutely not the case. If we pass legislation and put in place serious enforcement and regulations, we’ll go from more than a thousand gambling outfits to around 10 that are regulated and licensed.”