Alabama Senate committee approves lottery bill

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama could join multistate lotteries such as Powerball and Mega Millions under a proposal that cleared its first legislative hurdle on Wednesday.

The Senate Tourism and Marketing Committee approved the proposed constitutional amendment by a 3-2 vote. However, the lottery bill is considered a long shot to pass in the final weeks of the legislative session

Alabama is one of six states — along with Mississippi, Utah, Alaska, Hawaii, and Nevada — without a state lottery. Republican Sen. Paul Sanford’s proposal would change the Alabama Constitution so Alabama could join multistate lotteries. Because it involves a change to the Alabama Constitution to legalize gambling, voters would have to approve the idea.

“This lottery bill is dealing with just the multistate lotteries,” Sanford, a Republican from Huntsville, said. “It’s the one that catch all the attention — the Powerball, the Mega Millions that generate the buzz. It’s not the scratch-offs.”

Sanford said Alabamians should decide if they want a lottery. The legislative fiscal office estimates it would raise $45 million annually after operational costs and payouts to winners.

Joe Godfrey, executive director of the Alabama Citizens Action Program, a group that has opposed efforts to legalize gambling, argued a lottery will prey upon a state’s poor.

“It’s based on deception. The government is promoting this is your way out of poverty,” Godfrey said.

While the bill cleared committee, some senators raised concerns.

Sen. Bobby Singleton, who voted for the bill, said he is worried removing the prohibition on gambling in the state Constitution could allow the Poarch Creek Indians to have table games and a gambling monopoly.

“They could then open up those casinos,” Singleton said. Senators supportive of dog track casinos had fought to keep them in the mix to have video electronic terminals.

Former Gov. Robert Bentley’s lottery proposal failed in 2016, doomed by a similar fatal mix of a turf war over gaming machines. Some senators withdrew support from Bentley’s bill after House changes to the bill that would have limited a lottery to paper tickets, an aim at forbidding video lottery terminals.

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, who voted against the bill despite introducing previous gambling bills, said he did not think this was the “right” lottery bill because it was not accompanied by enabling legislation specifying how the lottery would be run.

The committee also approved another bill by Sanford to legalize fantasy sports contests.

Alabama’s attorney general in 2016 said that the online fantasy sports contests are illegal according to state law, and told DraftKings and FanDuel to stop operating in the state.

The attorney general said an activity is considered illegal gambling if a person bets anything of value on a contest of chance to win a prize, even when skill is part of the betting process

Legislation aimed at allowing the contests failed last year. The House of Representatives approved the bill after lengthy debate about whether the contests fall under the state’s anti-gambling laws. The bill did not get a vote on the Senate floor.