MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Lottery and casino legislation will again be introduced in Alabama’s upcoming legislative session — with the goal of getting the measure before voters in November — but the outlook for the proposal is unclear as lawmakers face primaries this spring.
Republican Sen. Greg Albritton of Range said he plans to introduce a proposed constitutional amendment that would include a state lottery, a compact with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians and a yet-to-be-determined number of other gambling sites.
“This simply needs to get off our plate, off the table. We need to deal with this and waiting another year is not going to help us. That would just be revenue thrown aside or thrown away,” Albritton said.
The Alabama Senate last year approved a proposed constitutional amendment that would establish a state lottery as well as allow nine casino sites in the state, but the measure stalled in the House of Representatives. “My goal is to find a path to get the votes that we need,” Albritton said of ongoing discussions.
However, some members of Republican leadership are doubtful about the outlook for any gambling legislation. Lawmakers face primaries in May which brings both election concerns and time constraints in the 2022 session, a key member said.
“I would be very surprised if it would pass in a regular session in an election year,” Republican Rep. Steve Clouse, chairman of the House general fund budget committee, said. “By the time we get toward to end of March first of April people are going to be antsy to get out of there.”
Robbie McGhee, vice chairman of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians Tribal Council, said lawmakers would be giving the final decision to voters since the measure would have to be approved in a statewide vote. Albritton said his goal is to get the measure before voters in November.
“I think this is the perfect opportunity to say, ‘That I’m going to give the power to people to make this decision,’” McGhee said.
Gambling legislation in the past has failed under a mix of opposition from conservative lawmakers and turf wars over who would get lucrative casino licenses. Owners of dog tracks and other electronic bingo operations have argued the Poarch Creeks should not have a monopoly.
Last year’s Senate-passed bill, in addition to authorizing casinos operated by the tribe, would have given existing dog tracks and electronic bingo operations, such as Greenetrack and VictoryLand dog tracks, an advantage in trying to win the other casino licenses.
It is unclear what this year’s bill would mean for those sites. Albritton said he expected the sites would initially have an interim license to continue gaming.
Albritton said he plans to propose that gambling revenue partly be used to fund mental health care and facilities. “That seems to be one major gap that we have in our state,” he said.