UPDATE: Alabama Senate to debate two lottery bills Wednesday

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP AND WHNT) - Lottery bills are getting their first test with Alabama lawmakers.

The Senate Tourism and Marketing Committee met this morning for public hearings on five different lottery bills. Two made it past the committee within the first fifteen minutes of the committee's afternoon meeting, and committee chair and Senate President Pro Tem Sen. Del Marsh (R- Anniston) says they'll be addressed first thing Wednesday.

"All we can do is let the process work to see if there's enough people to get to an agreement," he said. "I'm willing to debate all day long. It'll be the first bills that came out of this committee, so it'll be the first bills on the calendar. We'll go to that as soon as we get through the regular order of business."

The proposals up for debate are Gov. Robert Bentley's plan to set up a lottery to fund Medicaid, and Sen. Jim McClendon's (R-Springville) plan for a lottery and video terminals. They allow electronic lottery terminals, which can resemble slot machines or poker machines, at four state dog tracks, and seek a compact with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. Another bill that would limit a lottery to multistate games, such as Powerball, to save administration costs, did not yet advance out of the committee Tuesday.

Alabama is one of six states without a lottery. However, lawmakers say the bills face an uncertain outlook in the special session. Already, some are voicing opposition in the committees.

Joe Godfrey of ALCAP said in testimony to the committee, "The State literally becomes a con artist, deceiving its own citizens into believing that they're going to win some big money, knowing full well the majority of those tickets are going to end up in the trash can."

Others, like Mac McArthur, director of the Alabama State Employees Association, said a lottery is the best chance of helping people who need Medicaid fully funded.

"This is the only solution, reasonable solution, possible solution... that's out there, to address this problem that literally has people's lives in the balance," he said to the committee.

There is still much uncertainty about whether any of the two lottery bills that passed would win a 21-vote in the Senate. Committee Chairman Sen. Del Marsh said he wants to see what happens, and would rather not speculate Tuesday.

"I think we've got a Medicaid situation and we've got to fill 85 million dollars. What's the best way to get there?" he asked. "What I want to try to do is give it a fair chance," he said. "I'm still not convinced in the Republican caucus alone that there are votes for passage."

Marsh added, "I believe the majority of the people of the state, the voters, want an opportunity to vote on this issue. And I've tried to relay that to my colleagues, that our job, if that's the case, is to put the most responsible bill we think of in front of those people to make a decision. And that's what I'm going to try to do."

But not every member of the committee saw the lottery bills with enthusiasm. Sen. Trip Pittman said, "I think we have to fund government with something that's sustainable, something that doesn't have to advertise to people to throw away their money." He doesn't believe it'll have a big jackpot, or be something that will last. "It's a bad way to fund government."

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