Alabama Gaming Bills Face Senate Resistance

February 27, 2024
After major gaming expansion bills in Alabama quickly cleared their house of origin earlier this month, progress has slowed upon reaching the Senate, and pessimism has crept into the conversation.

After major gaming expansion bills in Alabama quickly cleared their house of origin earlier this month, progress has slowed upon reaching the Senate, and pessimism has crept into the conversation.

House Bill 151, and accompanying House Bill 152, would amend the state’s constitution to permit the creation of a state lottery, as well as seven new casino licenses and legalize both retail and mobile sports betting.

The bill quickly cleared the House of Representatives on February 15 with backing from Governor Kay Ivey and House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter, but opinions have been mixed regarding its prospects to clear the second legislative chamber.

Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Reed said that gaming legislation would likely be considered in the Senate in the next few weeks, but with some changes.

“I think it will be a topic that is going to be different in some ways than what is passed by the House, and we’ll see what the feedback is going to be with that,” Reed said.

Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton was optimistic speaking to reporters about the prospects of the bill.

“They've sent us a bill up here, it's something we can work with,” Singleton told 1819 News. “I look forward to the day that we can have a real debate about it.

“If we can get it out of here on this floor, debate it, and we can probably move forward with it,” he added. “I give it a 70/30 chance of passing right now."

However, Senator Sam Givhan told local radio station WVNN that the bill does not have the needed support in the Senate as things stand.

The bill would require 21 votes in the 35-member Senate, and Givhan, who opposes the legislation, said that as constructed, the bill will not reach that threshold.

“The bill that they want, where it's a constitutional amendment with accompanying enabling legislation, has at this point and time at least 19 no's, and they can't pass it,” he said.

He added that among those opposed voters, there may be some support for reducing the scale of the bill to simply permit a state lottery. 

“There are a lot of people out there that I've talked to that are hard, hard no's on casino gaming  that are like, 'but, I'll vote for a lottery',” Givhan said. “It's just a question of, what's that vote count going to be?"

“This idea that you know we've got to do all these different things and expand gaming dramatically in order to get a lottery, which I think is bad public policy but the people want it, and all the states around us have it, and they haven't gone down the toilet yet, so I think that's a possibility still but the gaming package that was passed by the House, we don’t even have to get to a filibuster.”

The bill also faces local opposition from the Poarch Band of Creek Indians (PCI), which currently operates three Class II gaming facilities in the state and has pushed for a provision that would allow Alabama-based operators, including PCI, to be able to make the last and best bid for the seven available casino licenses under the House-passed bill.

“We’re asking that all Alabama businesses, not just us, get this opportunity,” said Arthur Mothershed, executive VP for business development and government relations for PCI, according to the Alabama Political Reporter.  

“The state loses nothing. The bids will still come in. They stand to make significantly more for the licenses and reward businesses that have been employing Alabama citizens and paying Alabama taxes for years.”

If the bill does ultimately pass both chambers in some form, voters will also need to approve the constitutional amendment in November. 

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