Alabama Gaming Package Heads To House Floor

February 15, 2024
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Legislation that would transform the gaming market in Alabama could receive a vote on the floor of the House of Representatives as early as Thursday after clearing a House committee.
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Legislation that would transform the gaming market in Alabama could receive a vote on the floor of the House of Representatives as early as Thursday after clearing a House committee.

House Bill 151 and House Bill 152 both received favorable votes in the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee on Wednesday (February 14), after two days of hearings on the expansive gaming package.

The bills would amend the state’s constitution and permit the creation of a state lottery, as well as seven new commercial casino licenses, while authorizing both retail and online sports wagering.

It would also create a new gaming regulator, the Alabama Gaming Commission, which would have new enforcement powers to investigate and take action against illegal gaming operations.

The bill received mixed reactions during a public meeting Tuesday, with support coming from FanDuel and entities that would benefit from gaming tax revenue, including mental health providers and the state’s community college system.

Several spoke in religious or moral opposition, but a more notable opponent was the Poarch Band of Creek Indians (PCI), which operates three tribal casinos in the state that are currently limited to Class II bingo games. The bill would require the governor to negotiate a compact with the tribe to allow Class III gaming and set aside one of the seven casino licenses for PCI to construct a new property in northeast Alabama.

However, the tribe remains concerned that the bill does not require the governor to execute a compact in any specified amount of time or require that the license to construct the new casino property be granted.

“We have run successful gaming businesses for more than 15 years, which is why we can only support a bill that is based on the business principles we know work, and as this bill stands now we have real concerns,” said Robert McGhee, vice chairman of PCI’s tribal council.

Supporters have argued that the bill is designed to cap the amount of gaming in the state due to the spread of illegal machines, and Representative Chris Blackshear argued against the idea of simplifying the bill to only introduce a state lottery.

“Passing just a simple lottery, in my opinion, only muddies the waters even more than they already are,” he said. “I think personally, where we are now, it’s always been my belief that a holistic approach is the only way we’re ever going to be able to tackle it and make a lottery part of that very convoluted and difficult process.”

One of the no voters on Wednesday was Representative Allen Treadway, who argued that several of the casino licenses appeared to be reserved for existing entities who had been operating electronic bingo or historical horseracing machines based on selection criteria that include “existing or past investments in the local jurisdiction” and “familiarity with the local market.”

“These are people who are not running legal machines, they have been operating illegally,” Treadway said, adding he hoped some changes could be made to the bill on the House floor. “They have made millions over the years, haven’t paid their taxes, and this language right here rewards them for that.”

The constitutional amendment will need to garner at least 60 percent of each chamber of the state legislature to succeed, in addition to a majority of voter support in a state-wide referendum in early November. Governor Kay Ivey and House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter have spoken publicly in favor of the plan.

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