Details on gambling proposal released
MONTGOMERY, Ala (AP) — Alabama lawmakers could cast their first votes next week on sweeping gambling legislation to allow a state lottery, sports betting and casinos in the Deep South state.
If approved by lawmakers, the proposal would go before Alabama voters in the November general election, the first such public vote on gambling since a proposed lottery was rejected in 1999. State lawmakers and the public got their first look at the proposal this week.
Here’s a look at some of the highlights:
WHAT IS BEING PROPOSED
The legislation filed in the House of Representatives this week would create a state lottery, allow sports betting at in-person locations and through online platforms, and authorize up to 10 casino sites with table games and slot machines. Lawmakers have two bills before them. One is a proposed amendment to the Alabama Constitution to allow gambling. The other is a 143-page bill that spells out operating details including where the casinos would be located and how gambling would be regulated.
WHAT IS THE OUTLOOK
“It’s 50-50 now,” House Speaker Pro Tempore Chris Pringle said. “We’ve lost a few and gained a few.” However, Pringle noted that lawmakers are just getting to read the full bills.
Republican Rep. Andy Whitt, who led a group of legislators who worked on the legislation, said he expects a committee to hold a public hearing on the bills next week. If approved in committee, the bills could be voted on the House floor as soon as Thursday, Pringle said.
Supporters will need a mix of Republican and Democratic support to get the required votes. Members offered mixed opinions after seeing the legislation.
Republican Rep. Chip Brown of Hollingers Island said he supports the proposal. “We haven’t had a vote since 1999. I hear it from my constituents … that they want the ability to vote on gaming.” Republican Rep. Reed Ingram of Pike Road said he supports the idea of a state lottery but has concerns about allowing a number of casinos throughout the state.
House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels said Democratic lawmakers are still reviewing the legislation. He said the responses have “for the most part been pretty positive” but some members have concerns.
WHERE WOULD THE CASINOS BE LOCATED
The legislation allows for up to 10 casinos, including at the Poarch Band of Creek Indians’ three existing bingo operations in Atmore, Wetumpka and Montgomery. A new Alabama Gaming Commission would issue licenses for up to seven other casinos outside tribal land.
Four of those licenses would be reserved for sites in Jefferson, Greene, Macon and Mobile counties. Two licenses would be awarded in Lowndes County and Houston County. The final site, contingent upon a negotiated compact with the Poarch Creeks, would give the tribe a license to open a casino on non-tribal land in the northeast corner of the state near the Georgia state line.
WHERE WOULD SPORTS BETTING BE ALLOWED
The legislation would allow sports betting in person at the casinos and also online and through mobile apps. The legislation does not say how many licenses could be issued to provide online sports betting but said it “should foster a competitive environment.”
HOW MUCH MONEY WOULD IT GENERATE
The proposal would put a 24% tax on gaming revenues and a 17% tax on sports betting revenue. An official revenue estimate, prepared by the Legislative Services Agency, was not yet available. Supporters estimated it would generate more than $800 million in annual revenue.
HOW WOULD THE MONEY BE USED
State revenue would largely be steered to two new state trust funds — a Lottery for Education Fund and a Gaming Trust Fund for other state needs. The legislation lists possible and forbidden uses but largely leaves it up to lawmakers to decide how to allocate the money each year.
“That way we can pivot to our needs year over year,” said Republican Rep. Chris Blackshear, the bill’s sponsor.
The legislation says lottery revenue shall be distributed to education needs including two-year college and technical school scholarships, local school systems and university research programs. The listed uses for other gambling revenue include, but are not limited to, rural health care, roads, bridges, state parks and health care for low-income people.
WHO WOULD REGULATE GAMBLING OPERATIONS
A new state agency, the Alabama Gaming Commission, would issue licenses to the casinos and sports wagering operations and regulate gambling operations. It would be overseen by a nine-member commission appointed by the governor or legislative leaders. The agency would have a Gaming Enforcement Division. The Alabama Lottery Corporation would be led by a seven-member board appointed by the governor.