MONTGOMERY — Alabama lawmakers this week proposed new lottery bills, seeking to resurrect the issue after the defeat of a sweeping gambling proposal that would have also authorized multiple casinos in the state.
Republicans senators introduced two new lottery bills, looking to end Alabama's status as one of five states without a state lottery. However, the lottery bills face an uncertain outlook because of long-running disputes over how the required changes in state law would affect existing bingo operators.
“They want a lottery,” Sen. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, said of people in his district.
“Nobody has asked me for a craps table or a roulette wheel. Not one person has said to me they wish we had casinos in Alabama. None, but there has been plenty of people who repeatedly have said ’why don’t we have a lottery in Alabama,” McClendon said.
McClendon is proposing a lottery that would allow tickets to be sold from stores, video terminals and through a phone app.
Sen. Garlan Gudger, R-Cullman, has introduced a separate bill that would authorize a lottery, although instant games would be limited to paper lottery tickets and could not be sold electronically.
A lottery and casino bill by Republican Sen. Del Marsh on Tuesday fell two votes short of the 21 needed to get the proposed constitutional amendment through the 35-member Alabama Senate. Senators voted 19-13 for the proposal to authorize a state lottery, seven casinos locations as well as a compact with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians for casino games at their three sites.
“Obviously, that topic and issue is not over. Members are still continuing to discuss it and talk about it,” Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Reed told reporters Thursday.
Any gambling proposal would have be approved by three-fifths of lawmakers and a majority of state voters. Alabama voters in 1999 rejected then-Gov. Don Siegelman’s proposed state lottery, but lawmakers in both parties say they believe voters are now more welcoming to the idea.
“We do know the people of Alabama are calling their representatives and they’re really favorable of seeing us vote on a lottery,” House Speaker Mac McCutcheon told reporters.
Lottery bills have become entangled with the larger issue of gambling because of concerns over what the required changes to state law would mean for operators of electronic machines, which can resemble slot machines.
Republican leaders in both chambers said they are also are seeking more information on claims that allowing the new form of gambling would strengthen the Poarch Band of Creek Indians legal argument for casino games.
“Different attorneys that I’ve talked with have different responses,” McCutcheon said.
While Republicans hold a lopsided majority in the Alabama Legislature, McCutcheon said the bill would need bipartisan support because some GOP representatives oppose legalized gambling.
“At the end of the day, it’s more complicated than just a simple lottery. You’ve got other interests in the state that affects other legislators that affects votes. And so, we’ve got to bring everybody to the table and try to get enough votes to pass one,” McCutcheon said.
Rep. Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee, said she is concerned about VictoryLand, a Macon County dog track which has fought a legal battle with the state over the legality of electronic bingo. Warren said she did not want to see the facility cut out, or permanently closed, because of the jobs it has brought to her district.
“It served as our main financial blood life stream. It gave jobs It made unskilled people employed. They were able to buy homes, whatever they wanted. They were able to send their kids to college,” she said.