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Plan for Lottery, 10 Casinos, Falls Short in Alabama Senate, Second Vote Possible

AL.COM (May 1, 2024) – A plan to authorize an Alabama lottery and 10 casinos fell one vote short of approval in the Alabama Senate on Tuesday night. But Senate leaders said before leaving the chamber there is a chance for another vote before the legislative session ends.

The explanation that the legislation could still pass came after several minutes of confusion about what Senate Secretary Pat Harris said was an unusual situation.

The gambling legislation includes two bills, HB151 and HB152. Both were compromise versions of bills that had passed the House and Senate with differences in February and March.

Earlier on Tuesday, a conference committee of three senators and three representatives voted for the compromise versions, approving what is called a conference committee report.

The bills went from there to the House, which approved the compromise versions early Tuesday evening, moving them to the Senate and one step from approval and going to Alabama voters for the final say in a special election on Aug. 20.

The Senate took a long recess shortly after the House passed the bills. Senators returned at about 10 p.m., and began discussing the legislation about 20 minutes later.

Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Atmore, who has handled the bills in the Senate, made a motion to concur on the first bill, HB151. The bill is a constitutional amendment that needed 21 votes, or three-fifths, to pass the 35-member Senate. The vote was 20-15 in favor, one shy. Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth, who presides over the Senate, then said the conference committee report had failed.

But Senate Secretary Pat Harris said the 20-15 vote was to adopt the conference committee report on the bill and did not require 21 votes, only a majority.

After the 20-15 vote, the Senate voted to carry over HB151, or delay action on it. Harris said the bill can be brought up again for a vote that would require 21 votes to pass.

Harris said the situation was unusual and could only remember it happening once during his more than 30 years working for the Senate. Harris said it happens when the Senate approves a conference committee report on a constitutional amendment, which takes a majority vote, but does so with less than 21 votes required to pass a constitutional amendment.

“We adopted the conference committee report with less than 21 votes,” Harris said. “It means you have to re-pass the bill. Before we had an opportunity to re-pass the bill, they moved to carry it over, and the body carried the bill over.”

Harris said if the vote to adopt the conference committee report had been 21 votes or more, the bill would have been approved and a second vote would not have been necessary.

The Senate did not take action on the second bill in the package, HB152. The Senate will reconvene on Thursday.

Harris said Senate President Pro Tem Greg Reed can call for another vote on HB151 when the Senate returns.

Reed said there will be more talks on the bill to try to reach an agreement before it potentially gets another vote.

“We had a vote that wound up being a test vote, I guess you could say, to understand exactly where the membership was,” Reed said. “I think the bills are carried over so the legislation is still available for us to be able to continue to debate it.”

Albritton handled the gambling legislation that passed the Senate in March and voted for the compromise versions of the bills as a member of the conference committee earlier Tuesday. But he voted against adopting the conference committee report on HB151 on Tuesday night.

Albritton said his job as a conference committee member was to move bills into a position for a vote, even if he did not fully support them.

He said he would not rule out HB151 passing if it comes up for another vote.

A defeat of the lottery legislation would mark a disappointment for those who wanted to give voters a chance to have their say on a lottery and other state-regulated gambling. Lottery bills are proposed every year. But Alabama voters last had their say on a lottery in 1999.

This year’s proposal has come far closer to passing than most.

An ad hoc committee of lawmakers appointed by House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter spent more than a year developing the plan.

Seven of the casinos would offer slot machines and other electronic games of chance but no table games that use cards, dice, or a dealer. The other three casinos would be full-scale casinos on tribal lands operated by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians in Atmore, Wetumpka, and Montgomery under a compact negotiated with the governor.

HB151 says net revenue from the lottery would be used for educational purposes. It could be include an Alabama lottery as well as multi-state lottery games and scratch-off games. The plan does not authorize sports betting, which was part of the package the House approved back in February.

Sen. Dan Roberts, R-Mountain Brook, was the first in the Senate to speak on the legislation Tuesday night and said he would oppose it. Roberts said he believed it would hurt poor people and those who can least afford to spend money on lottery tickets.

“This is selling hope $3 at a time,” Roberts said.

Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, followed Roberts and urged the Senate to have more discussion and an explanation of what is in the bills. Singleton was one of three senators on a conference committee that approved the plan earlier Tuesday. He said it was not perfect but said he supported sending it to the voters.

Sen. Garlan Gudger, R-Cullman, another member of the conference committee, was the next to speak. Gudger began going over some of the details of the HB151, the constitutional amendment, including how it would repeal 17 local constitutional amendments that allow amendments in counties.

Sen. Shay Shelnutt, R-Trussville, said he would vote against the bill.

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