Two pieces of legislation that would allow for five casinos, two satellite facilities, sports betting and create a gaming commission to regulate the industry in Alabama were passed out of committee on Wednesday (March 9) and sent to the full Senate for consideration.
Senate Bill 293 is a constitutional amendment that would create the Alabama Education Lottery, allow the state to enter into compact negotiations with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians and allow for two satellite casinos and legalize sports betting.
Senate Bill 294 is the enabling legislation to create a state gaming commission to award a casino license at Greenetrack in Green County, Birmingham Race Course, VictoryLand in Macon County, the Mobile County Greyhound Racing Facility, and a casino in either DeKalb or Jackson county operated by the Poarch Band.
The bill would also impose a 20 percent tax on net gaming revenues for casinos and sports betting.
Republican state Senator Greg Albritton, who sponsored both bills, told the Senate Tourism Committee they result from last year’s work to get gambling expansion through the Alabama legislature.
Albritton said both were crucial to regulating gaming in Alabama and reminded his Senate colleagues that the “issue of a lottery is important to the people of Alabama.”
He said entering into a gaming compact with the Poarch Band, which already operates three Class II casinos with electronic bingo machines, would allow the state to receive a portion of the tribe’s gaming revenue.
Albritton said the bills were about the state taking control of an industry that is already in Alabama.
But Ken Johnson, a former House member, who testified on behalf of the Alabama Policy Institute on Wednesday, told lawmakers these bills were about the expansion of gambling in the state.
“With the expansion comes accessibility,” Johnson said. “I describe it like this, during the holidays we all know that it is very easy to put on weight and why is that? Because food is everywhere. When you increase the number of locations you are going to increase the number of problems … that come along with gambling.”
Albritton dismissed claims by Johnson and other opponents that the bills were simply about the expansion of gambling in the state.
“The only expansion of gambling in both these bills is the lottery,” Albritton said. “This is a gaming control bill; not a gaming expansion bill.”
The Senate could take up both bills as early as Thursday. Passage of both bills in the Senate is expected, but the House of Representatives over the last couple of years has been able to block any wide-ranging gaming bill or standalone lottery proposal.
Republican Senator Del Marsh, chairman of the tourism committee, supported an effort to pass a bill in 2021 to put a constitutional amendment on the November 2022 ballot only to fail to garner enough support before the session ended on May 17.
After much debate, the final Senate package included creating a state lottery, permitting casinos at the state’s four greyhound tracks, a new casino at a bingo facility plus a commercial casino to be operated by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.
The legislation also would have authorized state-wide mobile sports betting, while mandating Republican Governor Kay Ivey to negotiate a compact with the Poarch Band so the tribe could offer Class III games, including slot machines, table games and retail sports betting, at its three electronic bingo facilities on tribal land.
On Wednesday, Marsh encouraged his House counterparts to do all they can to get Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon and Speaker Pro Tem Victor Gaston, both Republicans, to bring the legislation up on the House floor should it pass the Senate.
“There is not an issue that I don’t get asked more about when I go home than the gaming issue,” Marsh said in comments directed to members of the House. “Make changes, go through the process but thus far it has been the Senate that has been doing the work on this.”
Marsh added that the people of Alabama support allowing voters to make a decision on whether to allow gaming.
Alabama voters have not had a chance to vote on a gaming measure since they rejected creating a state lottery in a 1999 referendum with 56 percent opposed to the proposal supported by then-Governor Don Siegelman, a Democrat.
The state did come close to passing a lottery bill during a special session of the legislature in 2016.
The state's Senate passed a lottery bill that year, and then the state's House of Representatives passed an amended version on its second vote. But because the House had amended the lottery legislation, it was sent back to the Senate, where it died.