A sweeping proposal to create a state lottery, more casinos and legal sports betting failed in the Alabama Senate on March 9, due in part to pressure from Baptists.
Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, sponsored the measure filed as Senate Bill 214.
After the vote, Marsh told Alabama Media Group that he was “called by some of my Baptist preachers that didn’t like the bill. … It’s amazing to me. You want to get a legislator’s attention, it only takes about six phone calls.”
SB 214 failed by a 19-13 vote. The bill needed 21 votes to pass the 35-member Senate.
New lottery bills introduced
Almost immediately, six bills dealing with the establishment of a lottery and oversight of proceeds from a lottery were filed.
Marsh entered three bills that were sent to the Senate Tourism Committee:
- SB 309 — would implement constitutional amendment proposed in SB214 “providing further for the powers and duties of the Alabama Lottery Corporation, further provide for the Lottery Trust Fund and the use of lottery proceeds for postsecondary scholarships, specify the disposition of unclaimed lottery prize money, and provide for the sale of lottery tickets by retailers”
- SB 310 — similar to SB 309 but aimed at the Alabama Gaming Commission supervising the conduct of the Alabama Education Lottery, bingo, charitable bingo and raffles, sports wagering and casino-style games; the bill would create an advisory board for the commission and provide for the issuance and renewal of licenses as well as the distribution of gaming proceeds
- SB 311 — would implement the constitutional amendment to update existing criminal provisions relating to casino-style games and sports wagering; the bill would also prohibit certain campaign contributions and other activity by operators of gaming facilities.
Other lottery related bills include:
SB 318 — proposes an amendment to the constitution to establish a state lottery and provide for the sale of lottery tickets, including instant tickets and multi-state lottery games, provide for the distribution of lottery proceeds and requirement of the Legislature to pass general laws to implement the amendment; sponsored by Garlan Gudger and Jim McClendon; sent to Senate Tourism Committee
SB 319 — proposes a constitutional amendment “to establish an Alabama Lottery; establish the Lottery Trust Fund; provide for the allocation of lottery proceeds to the (LTF); establish the Alabama Lottery Corporation and the Alabama Lottery Commission to regulate and supervise the operation of the (Corporation); and provide for the appointment of members of the commission. The amendment would also authorize the use of video lottery terminals by the entities currently licensed to conduct pari-mutuel wagering and an additional site in Lowndes County and to levy a state and local tax on revenue from video lottery terminals and a state tax on video lottery vendors; and authorize Legislature to pass general laws to implement the amendment”; sponsored by McClendon, Gudger and Marsh; read March 9 and sent to Senate Tourism Committee
SB 320 — would implement the constitutional amendment in SB and provide for “the powers and duties of the Alabama Lottery Commission; the use of lottery proceeds; the use of video lottery terminals at five locations; the allocation of the state tax on gaming revenue, the local tax on gaming revenue, and the tax on vendors of video lottery equipment; and would provide limitations on retailers of lottery tickets”; sponsored by McClendon, Gudger and Marsh; read March 9 and sent to Senate Tourism Committee
‘Lottery only’ misleading
“These new bills are ‘lottery only,’ but people need to realize that if a ‘lottery only’ bill passes the Senate, is amended in the House and goes to a conference committee in order to reach a compromise, it can be changed to include casinos,” said Joe Godfrey, executive director of Alabama Citizens Action Program, in a Facebook post March 11. “The gambling bosses are not giving up and going away quietly! We must continue to flood the phones and email boxes of Alabama senators asking them to oppose all gambling bills.”
In a March 10 statement, the Alabama Policy Institute cautioned against renewed attempts to expand gambling in the state and praised “those senators who took the time to dig into the workings of SB 214 and voted against it.”
Phil Williams, API’s chief policy officer and general counsel, said SB 214 “died under its own weight, combined with the fact that the gambling interests turned it into a feeding frenzy.”
The debate may not be over, however. Godfrey said once a bill goes back to each house, “it will only require a simple majority vote, not 2/3 as in the original legislation.”
If the people approve a “lottery only” constitutional amendment, he said, the legislators could add casinos without a vote of the people because the amendment changes the definition.
“We must not give up fighting for the conservative and family values in our state,” Godfrey said.
Marsh’s bill also called for Gov. Kay Ivey to enter a compact with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, which operates three casinos in Alabama — in Atmore, Montgomery and Wetumpka — under federal law.
The failed SB 214 would have added five new casinos — one at each of the state’s four existing dog tracks plus a fifth site in North Alabama run by the Poarch Band. Amendments to that bill included two other sites: Houston and Lowndes counties.
Ivey has said she wants a vote on the gambling issue before she attempts to make a compact with the Poarch Band.
Other legislative efforts
Three gambling-related bills similar to Marsh’s proposals were introduced in the House on Feb. 2 by Rep. John W. Rogers Jr., D-Birmingham. Those bills are now with the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee.
- House Bill 161 — would legalize sports wagering
- HB 199 — would legalize a state-sponsored lottery
- HB 200 — would legalize casino gambling.
Other bills still under consideration by the legislature include:
- SB 10, known as the Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act (similar to HB 1), would prohibit gender change therapy for minors
- SB 46, which would legalize medical cannabis (marijuana)
- SB 287 and HB 101, which are related to alcohol sales
- HB 246, a measure to allow local boards of education to offer yoga to students in grades K–12 (this bill passed the House on March 11).
Click here to see a full list of bills under consideration by the Alabama legislature during the 2021 term and the full text and latest progress of each.