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Alabama Gambling Expansion Bill Doesn’t Have Enough Support in Senate

Proposal, which includes adding sports betting and lottery, might be too big for its own good

SPORTSHANDLE (February 27, 2024) – The Alabama gambling expansion bill that easily and quickly cleared the House last week doesn’t have enough Senate support to move in that chamber, despite proponents Rep. Chris Blackshear’s and Sen. Greg Albritton’s attempts to recruit backers.

The bill, HB 152, has been assigned to the Senate Tourism Committee after passing the House, 67-31, on Feb. 15. It does not yet have a hearing date. The bill would legalize retail sportsbooks and mobile betting apps, as well as in-person, commercial casino gambling and a state lottery.

In total, the bill would allow for seven new casinos to be built, including six owned and operated by commercial companies and one owned by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, which already has three brick-and-mortar casinos in Alabama. Sports betting sites would have to be tethered to casinos.

Albritton told the Alabama Daily News Sunday that there is currently not enough support among Republicans to get the bill out of committee in the Senate.

“There is a lot of interest in trying to find a path [to passage],” Albritton told the Daily News. “The concern is, what can we put together that is palatable and passable and also passable in the House and acceptable by the governor? And that’s going to be for my friends to figure out because I’ve already got the solution in hand.”

Is the bill too big?

Among the issues going forward are how sports betting tax revenue would be spent and whether the Poarch Creeks actually support the bill.

Those issues aside, Blackshear said in an interview with WTVM Monday that the goal would be to stamp out the black market. He added that there are currently “several hundred” places to gamble illegally in Alabama and that “we would be eliminating 90% of those” with his bill.

HB 152 would usher in a massive expansion of gambling in the state, which only offers gambling on tribal lands. Alabama is among five states with no lottery, but it is nearly surrounded by states that offer legal sports betting.

Neighboring Mississippi has long had brick-and-mortar casinos. The state went live with in-person sports betting in 2018, and lawmakers are currently considering adding digital betting. Tennessee has offered its residents online sports betting since November 2020, and the Seminole Tribe in Florida went live with retail and digital sports betting late last year.

The only border state without legal wagering is Georgia. The state legislature there is considering multiple proposals to legalize.

The scope of the Alabama bill may be what stops it. In most cases, since the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act was overturned in 2018, states that have legalized sports betting have done it as a standalone issue. In a few cases, the legalization of daily fantasy sports and online casino (Connecticut, Michigan) were also part of the package, but in no newly legal state was lottery paired with sports betting.

Texas lawmakers are considering adding retail casinos with online sports betting tethered to those locations, though a proposal to do so stalled last year and the state legislature doesn’t meet again until 2025. When states like Tennessee, Vermont, and Wyoming, none of which traditionally had gambling, added wagering, it was digital-only.

Alabama Senate Majority Leader Steve Livingston said there isn’t currently a consensus in the State Senate, and if the bill does move, he would expect amendments, which means the bill would have to go back to the House for approval. Other senators are pushing for continued negotiation.

“The focus is getting something the majority is comfortable with,” said Sen. Chris Elliott, one of the Republicans who opposes the bill. “Now we back it up to the point where we get the votes to pass.”

Alabama’s session is set to adjourn May 20, and bills from this session won’t carry over to 2025.

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