The odds are lengthening for Alabama voters being asked next November if they want to legalize a state-run lottery and add more casinos, including full-scale gaming with traditional slot machines and table games.
Senate Bill 319 passed the Alabama Senate last month by a 23-9 vote. But the gaming expansion package has been met with much more controversy in the state’s lower legislative chamber.
Last night, House representatives engaged in a fierce debate. Republicans accused Democrats of trying to add last-minute changes to the lottery and gaming measure. Democrats charged Republicans with introducing a lottery-only statute without their knowledge or input before it arrived on the floor.
Tensions were high because people have been working so hard. Everybody was just really upset at the way things were,” House Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R-District 25) told reporters.
As for Republicans quickly drafting a lottery bill that didn’t involve more casinos and the legalization of commercial gambling, McCutcheon said there was no ill will.
“There was no effort to pull anything behind anybody’s back. We were trying to get a bill on the floor,” McCutcheon explained, adding that Alabamans want to at least vote on a lottery.
SB 319 did not go before a House roll call, as the GOP-controlled House did not feel they had adequate votes.
Alabama currently does not have any full-scale casinos with slot machines and table games. Instead, the state’s lone federally recognized tribe — the Poarch Band of Creek Indians — owns and operates three Class II casinos.
The tribe’s gaming unit, Wind Creek Hospitality, has gaming venues in Atmore, Montgomery, and Wetumpka. The casinos only offer electronic bingo-based gaming machines. While they look and sound similar to slot machines, they differ in that their spin results are based on the casino’s entire network of terminals. Class III slot machines use an individual random number generator to formulate a result.
Many lawmakers believe it’s time to allow Alabamans the decision to once again weigh-in on true casino gambling. A ballot vote hasn’t been held on gaming since 1999, when residents rejected an effort to legalize a lottery.
Much has changed over the more than two decades since that vote. Legal sports betting is now widespread across the country, only five states do not have a lottery, and states continue to authorize casinos.
Dems Denounce GOP
Alabama Senate Democrats on Thursday night said the GOP’s actions have muddied the gaming discussion.
If you don’t have integrity when you’re dealing with gaming, you need to give it up. And what I have seen in this room tonight, integrity is nowhere around,” declared Rep. Pebblin Warren (D-Tuskegee).
Time is ticking if any lottery and/or casino measure will reach voters during the election. The Alabama Legislature has only one remaining session day on its 2021 calendar.
“It’s going to be difficult to get it passed now,” McCutcheon conceded. The chamber’s lone remaining session day is Monday, May 17.
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