Comprehensive gambling legislation set to be introduced on Thursday (February 8) in the Alabama House of Representatives would allow voters to bring a state lottery, land-based casinos and sports betting to the state.
Republican Representative Chris Blackshear said he would introduce the gaming package that involves a state constitutional amendment to permit limited forms of legal gaming in one of the last holdouts on gambling expansion in the United States during a press conference on Wednesday (February 7).
The bill would create seven new casino licenses, each with a designated county where the license must be located. The licenses would be awarded through an open bidding process.
Each casino license would require a minimum bid of at least $5m as an upfront fee, plus a minimum capital investment of $35m, with groundbreaking required within 12 months.
One of the licenses, which Blackshear said would be located in the northeast corner of the state, would be reserved for a tribal casino subject to compact negotiations with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, which currently operates three casinos in Alabama that are limited to Class II bingo games.
A nine-person gaming commission would be created as part of the legislation, as would a lottery corporation with a seven-member board.
Casinos would be taxed at 24 percent of revenues, while sports betting would be taxed at 17 percent.
Blackshear specifically noted that online casinos would not be part of the bill.
Republican Representative Andy Whitt, who chairs the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee, said that due to the bill’s high-profile nature, he would expect the House to act on it early in the session to allow the body to move onto other issues one way or another.
“I think you’ll see the bill move fairly quickly next week,” Whitt said. “I think that once the bill is dropped, and we give ample time for all the members to read the bill, this is the elephant in the room as it always has been.
“We need to vote it up or vote it down and move on to other legislation, so I would look for it to move early in the session.”
Whitt and other legislators spoke about one of the bill’s policy aims being to stamp out illegal gambling operations and cap the amount of gaming taking place in the state rather than see continued proliferation through unregulated facilities exploiting loopholes in existing laws.
“It's a problem that has been lingering here for decades, and I think now we have an opportunity in front of us to finally put a stop to it,” Whitt said.
“One thing I want to make perfectly clear and for everyone to understand is that I'm in no way a proponent of gambling expansion,” he added. “What I am, however, in favor of, and I am a firm proponent of, enforcing the law.”
The bill would also create an enforcement division within the gaming commission that would allow the state to take action against illegal facilities, rather than rely on local district attorneys.
“Just like the securities commission, just like alcoholic beverage control, this is a unique business, this has unique criteria in it,” said Republican Senator Greg Albritton. “We need unique people that understand this and do this daily to go out and enforce this.”
“It will give Alabama the opportunity to regulate this cancerous growth that continues to spread throughout our state, throughout our homes, and through our phones and through our computers and through our communities,” Albritton added on the bill.
“We need to control this. We need to capture it. We need to stop this growth. That's what this bill does.”
The bill has backing from House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter and Republican Governor Kay Ivey, who reaffirmed her support Tuesday night during her annual State of the State address.
“This year when Alabamians make their way to the ballot box, I hope they will be voting on another issue, gaming,” Ivey said. “I believe the current proposal being contemplated by the legislature is good for Alabama, and I will be carefully watching it move through the process.
“It will crack down on illegal gambling, and it will responsibly regulate limited forms of legal gaming, including a state-wide lottery.”
Alabama voters last faced a referendum on establishing a state lottery in 1999 when a proposal to introduce a lottery failed. A proposed amendment to permit a lottery, casinos and sports betting passed the Senate in 2021 and had Ivey’s support, but failed to clear the House.
The new bill would require a three-fifths majority in both chambers of the state legislature to adopt the amendment and send the issue to voters.