Alabama Senate Committee Approves Stripped-Down Gaming Bill

March 6, 2024
An Alabama Senate committee overhauled a comprehensive gaming bill Tuesday night, removing provisions that would permit sports betting in the state, as well as create seven new commercial casino licenses.

An Alabama Senate committee overhauled a comprehensive gaming bill late Tuesday (March 5), removing provisions that would permit sports betting in the state as well as create seven new commercial casino licenses.

The Senate Tourism Committee voted to advance amended versions of House Bill 151  and House Bill 152 that would amend the constitution to permit the creation of a state lottery and create new enforcement mechanisms to curtail unregulated gaming in the state.

However, in addition to transforming proposed casino licenses into pari-mutuel facilities limited to historical horseracing machines, the bill omits retail and online sports betting entirely.

Senator Greg Albritton described the bill as “a major manufacturing of sausage that has not been easy” after weeks of debate following the House passing the bills on February 15.

Albritton said that, since then, the Senate has gone through multiple versions of the bill in hopes of finding a consensus that could meet the required threshold of 60 percent to pass a constitutional amendment.

“The reason for it, frankly, is because we do not have the votes to get [sports betting] incorporated here,” Albritton said. “So what we have is a reduced package from what we received from the House to accommodate and to match what we can vote to get through.”

“There's a feeling about both of those issues that have not been resolved, we've had lots of arguments and discussions about those many, many times,” he continued. “But today, what we have is a consensus of bills and package that we believe has a consensus and that we believe has the necessary votes to move forward.”

The modified legislation would repeal local constitutional amendments that permit electronic bingo, and instead create a unified system with seven pari-mutuel licenses at existing gaming locations that would include historical horseracing devices.

Electronic bingo machines would not be permitted under the new legislation, Albritton said.

The bill would also require Governor Kay Ivey to negotiate a tribal gaming compact with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, but Albritton said it would not permit the tribe to offer Class III gaming amid concerns voiced by another legislator that the pari-mutuel licensees could be severely disadvantaged if the tribe was allowed to offer full casino-style gaming.

“This does not open up Class III gaming in Alabama,” Albritton said. “In fact, what this does is it lowers even some of the Class II [gaming] that is ongoing in the state.

“I don’t think there’s any opportunity for Class III anywhere in the state at this point,” he added. “At least not legally.”

Another interesting provision is that rather than putting the bill on the November general election ballot for voters to consider, a special election would be held on September 10 if the legislature approves the amendment.

Republican legislators had voiced concerns that putting a gaming issue on the ballot could potentially increase Democratic voter turnout in the general election.

If the full Senate does ultimately adopt the bill, the House would have to agree to the changes or form a conference committee with representatives of both chambers to try to iron out the differences between the two plans.

The House version would have permitted both land-based and mobile sports betting, as well as created seven commercial casino licenses in addition to the state lottery.

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