Alabama Sen. Del Marsh expects the state legislature to discuss his gambling bill today (Feb. 11) on the Senate floor.
Senate Bill 214, proposed Feb. 9 by the Republican senator from Anniston, was sent to the Senate Tourism Committee Feb. 10. Marsh chairs that committee, where it passed unanimously 11-0 in favor of hearing the bill.
The bill proposes a broad expansion of gambling in the state.
“We are not talking about a simple ‘paper lottery,’ but widespread gambling involving electronic gambling devices (slot machines and possibly online gambling ‘in the palm of your hand’), full-fledged casinos up and down the state and a compact with the Poarch Creek Indians which would allow them to add a casino in northeast Alabama near Huntsville and Chattanooga, Tennessee,” said Joe Godfrey, executive director of the Alabama Citizens Action Program.
Lottery and casinos
The bill proposes creating a lottery and five new casinos. Four of the casinos would be at the existing greyhound tracks in Alabama: the Birmingham Race Course, VictoryLand in Macon County, Greentrack in Greene County and the Mobile Greyhound park.
The Poarch Band of Creek Indians would operate the fifth site in Jackson or DeKalb counties in northeast Alabama. The band already operates casinos in Atmore, Montgomery and Wetumpka (operating under federal law).
SB214 would require a change to the Alabama constitution, which would have to be approved by voters.
The 35-page bill also seeks a compact between the State of Alabama and the Poarch Band. Gov. Kay Ivey has repeatedly stated she would not negotiate a compact until voters approve gambling expansion.
Proposed revenue distribution
Under provisions outlined in the bill, casinos would be allowed to offer a wide range of games —blackjack, roulette and slots — as well as bingo and sports betting on site. A 20% tax rate and license fees would be sought from the casinos. That revenue would be distributed as follows:
- 20% to the Alabama Gaming Commission for expenses (any remaining will be diverted to the Legislature)
- 75% to the state’s General Fund
- 3% to county commissions where casinos are located
- 2% to cities that have a casino (if the casino is not in a city, that 2% would also go to the county commission).
The net revenue from the lottery would support college scholarships, including ones for career training at community colleges, as well as students at four-year colleges who enter the teaching field in areas of high demand (science and math).
A seven-member Alabama Gaming Commission, would be established to regulate all forms of gambling.
Proceeds from license fees would be collected in a Gaming Trust Fund. The current plan for spending those funds include shoring up the General Fund; expanding access to high-speed broadband internet in rural areas; funding rural health care services, including mental health services; and infrastructure improvements in areas that do not have a casino.
In 1999, Alabama voters rejected a lottery proposed by Gov. Don Siegelman.
“I think the people of the state are ready to address this issue and want to,” Marsh told reporters Feb. 9 in the State House.
Marsh does not plan to seek a vote on the gambling bill until legislators return from their upcoming 10-day break. He said he hopes his fellow lawmakers will use the break to discuss the bill with their constituents.
Effect on Alabamians
Godfrey and others say the bill will hurt Alabamians.
“The argument from legislators who favor this bill is that they ‘just want to allow the people of Alabama to vote on gambling,’ but what they really mean is they want to allow the big lottery management companies, the casino operators and the tribal gambling bosses to [buy] the votes of the people,” Godfrey said.
Churches who oppose gambling would have to make the choice to spend money to protest gambling or to do ministry, Godfrey said. “Churches will also lose as they are called upon to help families that will have lost everything they own … through government-sanctioned and government-sponsored gambling,” he added.
ALCAP and the Alabama Policy Institute added SB214 to watch lists for their supporters to follow. In a release from API, the organization said that “basing budgets on gambling revenues and the lottery is bad fiscal policy.”
API, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization committed to free markets, limited government and strong families, suggested five amendments to the bill:
- The legislation must include ratification by the residents of Alabama.
- Gaming interests must be banned from donating to campaigns and PACs in all state and local races, including those for mayor, city council, county commission, district attorney, etc.
- Public benefits, such as EBT cards, must be barred from use at gaming establishments.
- A considerable portion of the lottery proceeds should go to support K-12 school choice programs.
- Since the lottery and gambling will result in increased revenue to the state, the legislature should decrease taxes elsewhere. We specifically suggest eliminating the grocery tax as an appropriate offset.
API pledged to vote no on the bill until these proposals were added.
Other legislation updates:
—The two versions of the Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act (House Bill 1 and Senate Bill 10) were in committee Feb. 10. HB1 had a public hearing in the Judiciary Committee, and Godfrey expects a vote by legislators after their break. SB10 was voted out of the Health Committee Feb. 10. The bills prohibit gender change therapy for minors and prohibits withholding related information from parents. ALCAP supports both bills.
—A medical marijuana bill awaits debate in the Alabama Senate. Click here to read more about the bill.
—Senate Bill 138 and House Bill 229, bills that would allow direct shipment of alcoholic beverages directly to Alabama homes, passed out of their respective committees (Senate Tourism Committee and House Judiciary Committee) Feb. 10.
—House Bill 246 would allow local boards of education to offer yoga to students from kindergarten through 12th grade, which is currently illegal. Clete Hux, executive director of the Apologetics Resource Center in Birmingham, Alabama, said the effort is really a “Trojan Horse” to establish the Hindu religion in public schools. “We don’t understand many worldviews outside of our own” Western view, Hux said in an interview with Godfrey. (To hear a December TAB Talks discussing the yoga bill, go to tabonline.org/yoga.)
For a downloadable list of contact information for Alabama legislators, click here.