Posted on: February 9, 2024, 04:17h.
Last updated on: February 8, 2024, 06:18h.
Just hours after Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) proclaimed her support to end the state’s prohibition on commercial gambling, a bipartisan group of lawmakers said they’re finalizing legislation to legalize Las Vegas-style casinos and a lottery.
Members of the state Legislature in Montgomery this week were handed a draft of the gaming expansion package. The proposed statute includes the allowance of up to seven commercial brick-and-mortar casinos with slot machines, table games, and sports betting.
The Poarch Band of Creek Indians would be allowed to incorporate the same games and betting at their tribal properties in Atmore, Montgomery, and Wetumpka that currently offer bingo-based electronic gaming devices. The measure would additionally allow the tribe, Alabama’s only federally recognized Native American community, to build a fourth casino in the northern part of the state to lure in gamblers from Tennessee and Georgia. Those two states also do not have casinos.
The bill would establish a state-run lottery and form a nine-person Alabama Gaming Commission.
The final say on gambling resides with the electorate. The forthcoming gaming package would only initiate a statewide ballot referendum asking residents to amend the Alabama Constitution to permit such gambling.
Gaming Package Specifics
The Alabama lawmakers crafting the gaming package include Reps. Andy Whitt (R-Madison), Chris Blackshear (R-Phenix City), and Sam Jones (D-Mobile). State Sen. Greg Albritton (R-Atmore) plans to champion the measure in the upper chamber and appeared with the group during a Wednesday news conference.
We believe people deserve the right to vote on this issue,” said Whitt.
Whitt reasoned the bill would accomplish two things — rid out bad actors facilitating illegal gambling while providing the state with a new tax stream. State projections suggest Alabama could receive between $802 million to more than $1 billion annually from casino and lottery gambling.
The group’s bill submits taxing gross gaming revenue won by casinos at 24% and levying a 17% tax on sportsbook income.
In discussing their forthcoming gaming measure, the bill’s supporters said Alabamians want to weigh in on the controversial subject. The lawmakers cited a telephone survey of over 400 registered voters conducted last August that found strong support for a gaming referendum.
The poll concluded that more than nine in 10 support the Legislature allowing a casino and/or lottery referendum to be put on the 2024 November ballot. For that to happen, a gaming bill must garner a three-fifths supermajority in each legislative chamber. That means 63 votes in the 105-member House of Representatives and 21 votes in the 34-member Senate.
Gaming bills have failed almost every Alabama legislative session in the past decade. The heart of the Bible Belt, lawmakers will certainly hear from their religious constituents who believe casinos are a drain on society and go against their moral compasses.
The Alabama Citizens Action Program (ALCAP) is one such nonprofit. The organization is an interdenominational group that claims to be the state’s “moral advocates.” ALCAP believes casinos prey on vulnerable people, disrupt families, cause bankruptcies, and elevate crime.
“Predatory gambling is when state governments partner with powerful corporate gambling interests to use a commercialized business to exploit and defraud citizens and their communities,” Rev. Greg Davis, ALCAP president, said last month. “The allure of a permanent revenue source for the state — for education, care for the elderly, Medicaid expansion, etc. — would continually incentivize the state to turn our citizens into permanent habitual gamblers to keep up the funding for government services.”
Davis opined that while casinos might enrich state government pockets, gamblers — instead of becoming savers and investors — “become losers.”