Alabama House to decide if voters will see casinos on the ballot

With just two more days left in Alabama’s 2021 legislative session (May 6 and May 17), three gambling bills passed through three different committees today (May 4) and now head to the full House for a vote.

Today’s discussions centered on Senate Bill 319, which would broadly expand gambling in Alabama to include a state lottery, casino gambling and online and sports betting.

The House Economic Development and Tourism Committee held a public hearing on Senate Bill 319. The committee approved the bill on a voice vote, which means no vote count is available, but one representative did voice a no vote. The measure now goes to the full House for consideration.

Senate Bill 319, sponsored by Senators Jim McClendon (R-Springville), Garlan Gudger (R-Cullman) and Del Marsh (R-Anniston), was introduced as a lottery-only bill. The measure was substituted and then amended three times on the floor to add casino gambling and sports betting. The measure passed in a 23–9 vote on April 13.

The bill calls for a constitutional amendment to expand gambling in the state. Gov. Kay Ivey has advocated for a comprehensive gambling package following a 2020 report by her Gambling Study Group. That group estimated a lottery and state-regulated casinos would raise $500 to $700 million annually.

Opposition to SB 319

Joe Godfrey, executive director of Alabama Citizens Action Program, spoke against the bill in today’s hearing.

“All I hear is ‘let the people vote,’ but what you are talking about is let the gambling forces buy the people’s vote,” he said. “I also keep hearing about illegal gambling running rampant and that expanding widespread legalized gambling is the only way to fight it, but show me where that has actually worked. Should we do the same for prostitution and human trafficking? Why not strengthen the existing laws against illegal gambling in the state and enforce the laws?”

In an email sent May 3, Godfrey warned ALCAP supporters that if SB 319 passes the House and is approved by voters, it “will dramatically transform our state for generations to come. The result will be multiple, full-fledged casinos up and down the state, online sports betting and all of the evil that will accompany such activity, such as increased crime rates, prostitution and human trafficking.”

“Once you legalize more forms of gambling, more and more people will begin to gamble, especially young people. You don’t stop gambling activity by legalizing it,” Godfrey said.

Related bills

The other two gambling bills, SB 309 and SB 311, relate to SB 319.

SB 309 passed the House Ways and Means Education Committee and now goes before the full House. It would take effect if voters were to approve a constitutional amendment to legalize a lottery, such as SB 319, and would set up the guidelines for an Alabama Education Lottery.

SB 311, passed today through the House State Government Committee, and also heads to the full House. SB 311 would take effect and establish the Alabama Gambling Regulatory Commission if SB 319 passes the House and is approved by voters.

The House committee actions today mean the full House will have the opportunity to vote on the gambling bills in the final two days of the session, with a vote expected on Thursday (May 6).

If SB 319 passes the House in its current form, then voters would decide the issue in a November 2022 ballot measure.

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