Alabama Governor Frustrated Over Legislature's Inaction On Gambling

May 15, 2024
Back
Negotiations behind the scenes during the final day of the Alabama legislative session failed to secure the extra vote needed for gaming legislation, leaving the state's governor frustrated at the inability of lawmakers to put the issue on the ballot for voters to determine.
Body

Negotiations behind the scenes during the final day of the Alabama legislative session failed to secure the extra vote needed for gaming legislation, leaving the state's governor frustrated at the inability of lawmakers to put the issue on the ballot for voters to determine.

Republican Governor Kay Ivey said if gambling comes up again after the failed legislative discussions of recent weeks, “we will deal with it.”

“My interest in that bill was to give the people the chance to vote in Alabama and I’m sorry that they didn’t get that chance,” Ivey told reporters following her speech Monday (May 13) to the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce.

A conference committee of the Alabama House and Senate two weeks ago unveiled consensus proposals to legalize a state lottery plus slot machines at four racetracks and three existing bingo facilities. Ivey would also have been required to negotiate a gaming compact with the Poach Band of Creek Indians to provide for Class III gaming on tribal lands.

The House initially passed a more sweeping gambling expansion package in February that included a lottery, authorized up to seven casinos and sports betting across the state. The Senate version removed everything except compact negotiations, a state lottery plus historical horseracing terminal at specific locations, which sent the proposal to a conference committee.

Despite a consensus in that committee, the compromise measure was defeated in the Senate by a vote of 20-15, one vote short of the 21 votes required to formally approve the legislation by the required three-fifths majority.

“It definitely has been a journey this legislative session,” Stephanie Bryan, chairwoman of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, said Tuesday (May 14) during a webinar on the politics of gambling in Alabama hosted by the Indian Gaming Association.

The Alabama legislature met for 30 days this year, ending its session on Thursday (May 9). Lawmakers will return to the state's Capitol in Montgomery on the first Tuesday in February 2025.

Bryan said hopefully at some point before then, all the parties can regroup and reach agreement on legislation.

“Discussions will probably take place later this year on what gambling looks like. Hopefully, we will be at the table,” she said.

The tribe already have three Class II electronic bingo casinos in Atmore, Montgomery and Wetumpka. Under the company’s Wind Creek Hospitality division, it also manages an additional seven gaming properties in Florida, Pennsylvania and the Caribbean.

Speaking to reporters about the failed gaming expansion efforts, Republican Senate President Pro Tem Greg Reed said that gambling “is always a topic for discussion ... I’ve been in the legislature for 14 years and it is with us every year.”

Still, Reed added that he does anticipate a bill to be filed in the House or Senate “related to the topic of gaming” when lawmakers reconvene next year.

Republican House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter told Alabama Public Television’s Capitol Journal that lawmakers ultimately ran out of time to deal with gambling reforms this year.

“I hear it all the time, they want their voices heard,” Ledbetter said. “The money is going out of state. We have almost half of our counties that border another state that has got it.”

Alabama is bordered by Tennessee in the north, Georgia in the east, Florida in the south, and Mississippi in the west. All those states offer a lottery, with casino gaming legal in Florida and Mississippi.

Senator Bobby Singleton, a Democrat and Senate Minority Leader, said the goal with the legislation was “to raise as much money for the state of Alabama as we can.”

Still Without A State Lottery

Alabama remains one of five U.S. states still without a lottery, as attempts to establish a state lottery to help cover the cost of state education programs have failed to score approval on several occasions over recent decades. The other four states are Alaska, Hawaii, Nevada and Utah.

Alabama voters have not had a chance to vote on a gaming expansion measure since they rejected creating a state lottery in a 1999 referendum, with 56 percent opposed to the proposal.

The state did come close to passing a lottery bill during a special session of the legislature in 2016 but a bill approved by the Senate was amended in the House and not passed again by senators.

“As far as the lottery is concerned, the voters really want a chance to vote,” Ledbetter said. “It’s the process. I mean that was one of the things I wanted to do.”

Bryan stressed that the Poarch Band of Creek Indians were supportive of a “clean education lottery” bill to establish just a state lottery in Alabama, and that they have never been against any such proposal.

Bryan said she believes the governor is also interested in a lottery and would sign enabling legislation.

In a statement, the Alabama House Democratic Caucus expressed disappointment that residents in the state were again denied the opportunity to vote on the issue of gaming. Of the 105 members in the Alabama House, 28 are Democrats and 76 are Republicans, with one vacancy.

“From the beginning, House Democrats have honored the clear mandate given by the people of Alabama, fighting for a true education lottery wholly devoted to education, and securing funding for healthcare throughout Alabama,” the statement said.

“We expected that this issue will be considered in the future, and we will once again expect the clear mandate of Alabama voters to be reflected in any good-faith gaming legislation.”

Our premium content is available to users of our services.

To view articles, please Log-in to your account, or sign up today for full access:

Opt in to hear about webinars, events, industry and product news

To find out more about Vixio, contact us today
No items found.