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Alabama Senate to Debate Lottery Bill Without Casinos, Sports Betting

AL.COM (March 7, 2024) – The Alabama Senate on Thursday will debate bills that would allow voters to decide whether to have a lottery and a new Alabama Gambling Commission to regulate pari-mutuel gambling at seven locations, the state’s four former greyhound tracks plus three others.

The legislation does not include sports betting and casinos that were in the version that passed the House three weeks ago. It does call for the governor to negotiate a compact with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians that would allow the tribe to offer full casino games at their electronic bingo casinos on tribal lands in Atmore, Wetumpka, and Montgomery.

If the Senate passes the plan it would have to return to the House, which could agree with the changes or send the bills to a conference committee.

Final approval would be up to voters in an election. The bill currently has that set for a special election on Sept. 10.

The pari-mutuel betting could be on live horse and dog races or by simulcast, or historical horse or dog racing on computerized machines. It would be allowed at the greyhound tracks in Birmingham, Mobile, Macon County, and Greene County. It would also be allowed at bingo halls in Lowndes County and Houston County, plus an additional site in Greene County, for a total of up to seven facilities that would be licensed by the Alabama Gambling Commission.

Casino games and electronic bingo would not be allowed at the seven facilities, which would pay a license fee of at least $5 million for 15 years.

The state would collect a tax of 24% to 32% on the gambling. The fiscal note estimates it would raise $99 million to $132 million a year in net state revenue.

The lottery, which could include a state lottery, multi-state lotteries, and scratch-off games, is estimated to raise $305 to $379 million in net state revenue.

The lottery, which could include a state lottery, multi-state lotteries, and scratch-off games, is estimated to raise $305 to $379 million in net state revenue.

It would take a three-fifths vote, 21 of 35 senators, to approve the constitutional amendment that would go to voters.

The House passed its version of the plan by a vote of 70 to 32. That included yes votes from all 28 members of the Democratic minority caucus.

House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville, said Wednesday he thought the plan in the Senate would have little or no support in the caucus.

The Senate sponsor of the legislation is Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Atmore. Albritton opened the debate by talking about how the Legislature has tried for decades to effectively regulate gambling.

Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, told Albritton he believes the 24% to 32% tax rate is too high. Singleton said he was concerned that the tax rate and restrictions on what the facilities could offer could make it hard for the facilities to attract customers and stay in business for the long term. Greene County is in Singleton’s district.

Sen. Clyde Chambliss, D-Prattville, proposed an amendment that did several things, including restricting the use of net revenues to non-recurring expenses. Chambliss said that was because gambling revenues tend to decline over time. Albritton supported the change. The amendment was approved by a vote of 30-1.

Albritton noted that the bill would repeal 17 local constitutional amendments that allow bingo and have been used to offer electronic bingo, even though the state Supreme Court has said electronic bingo is illegal.

Albritton and others have said a key need for the legislation is to replace the patchwork of laws with a uniform, statewide law.

Albritton noted that the bill would require the creation of a law enforcement division under the new Alabama Gambling Commission. He said that would be an improvement of relying on local law enforcement for enforcing gambling laws.

Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, said he was concerned that the existing facilities that would be able to have only pari-mutuel betting under Albritton’s bill would not be able to compete with Poarch Creek casinos that would offer the full range of casino games under a compact with the state.

Smitherman proposed an amendment saying that if the state enters a compact allowing the Poarch Creeks to offer full casino games, then the other seven facilities could also offer those games, which are called Class III games under federal law.

Albritton, who said his goal was to keep the legislation in a form that could pass the Senate, asked the Senate to table, or reject, Smitherman’s amendment. The amendment was tabled by a vote of 24-7.

Smitherman proposed another amendment changing the tax rate on pari-mutuel gambling from the range 24% to 32% to a range of 18% to 26%. The Senate rejected that amendment 22-6.

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