Alabama lawmakers head toward lottery vote

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP and WHNT) — Lawmakers are headed to a vote on lottery legislation next week, as supporters aim to change Alabama's status as one of the few states without the games. The Senate Tourism and Marketing Committee is scheduled to vote Tuesday on one of two rival lottery proposals introduced this session.

Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh said his hope is to get a bill before the full Senate on Thursday. If a bill is approved by both chambers, the proposal would go before Alabama voters. "I honestly think we are going to pass a bill," Marsh told The Associated Press when asked to gauge the outlook for the legislation. "I really believe the people of the state want a chance to vote on it."

The Senate committee, which Marsh chairs, is scheduled to consider a bill by Republican Sen. Greg Albritton of Atmore that would limit a lottery to paper tickets. A rival bill by Republican Sen. Jim McClendon, which would also allow electronic games at state dog tracks, was not listed on the committee agenda.

Albritton said he wants to limit games to a "paper lottery" because he said that is what most people envision when they think of a lottery instead of the video terminal. He said he was cautiously optimistic, but said the bill was not a "slam dunk."

"Now that Mississippi and everyone else around us has a lottery, it's difficult for us to face our constituents and say, "No we are not going to let you have a lottery," Albritton said.

McClendon said he was disappointed that his bill was not scheduled for a vote.

"My bill, number one, makes more money — a lot more money — and it creates a lot more jobs for the state of Alabama," he said.

We talked to Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) about the bills. He said there are still a lot of unknown factors, including revisions and substitutions that could take place in the committee and if it gets further, on the floor of the Senate.

"You've got to be careful because it can be a moving target as it moves through the Legislative process," he said.

One thing he wants to see is whether lawmakers will choose to designate where the money would go.

"Where is the money going to be spent, the proceeds for the lottery? Do they go to education? Do they go to a specific need like prisons or early childhood reading? Or Scholarships for young people leaving high school?" he asked. "I think part of the money should definitely go to the education system in the state. If we are going to move Alabama forward as a state, education is a critical component of that. That being said, the general fund today has great needs. So I think they need to share as well in any proceeds. So that leaves me at some kind of education/general fund split."

The lottery debate will reignite longstanding disputes over who can operate electronic gambling machines in the state and concerns about the consequences for existing gambling operations if state gambling law is changed. Some lawmakers have sought to ensure that state dog tracks can have video lottery terminals. In recent years, the state has seized electronic bingo machines at the tracks, arguing the slot machine look-alikes are not what was intended by state laws authorizing bingo. The Poarch Band of Creek Indians offer nearly identical games at three casinos in the state but the tribe does not fall under state jurisdiction.

"The interest in the lottery is probably the highest I've seen it to date," Orr said. "The devil though is in the details. What kind of bill, what kind of lottery, and what are the ramifications for other gaming interests if a constitutional amendment is presented to the people?"

He said he doesn't see casinos and table gaming becoming a factor, and he doesn't think the people would support that.

If approved by the Senate, the bill will then move to the Alabama House of Representatives.

House Speaker Mac McCutcheon said Friday that representatives are in a "wait and see mode" to see what comes out of the Senate.

Rep. Andy Whitt (R-Ardmore) who sits on the House Economic Development and Tourism committee which would consider any lottery bills first in the House, said in a statement to WHNT News 19:

"I would support giving the citizens of Alabama the ability to vote on a traditional paper ticket lottery. It must be a clean bill with the use of the lottery’s net proceeds being clearly defined. I’m just not confident that it would solve all of the state’s major funding issues. However, I reiterate, the people should have the right to vote on this issue."

Alabama is one of five states — along with Utah, Alaska, Hawaii, and Nevada — without a state lottery.

State voters in 1999 rejected a lottery proposed by then-Gov. Don Siegelman.

Former Gov. Robert Bentley in 2016 unsuccessfully proposed a state lottery in response to a state budget crisis.

The Alabama Senate approved a lottery bill that year, but the support fell apart after the House of Representatives added language limiting the games to paper tickets so that video lottery terminals would not be allowed.

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