Gambling bill to allow lottery and slots remains stalled in the Alabama Senate

Gambling bill to allow lottery and slots remains stalled in the Alabama Senate
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A proposal to authorize a state lottery and allow casinos with slot machines and video poker, but not table games, at seven sites in the state remains stalled in the Alabama Legislature but could get another vote in the session’s final three days.

“I don’t know exactly what the outcome is going to be, other than the membership is working on the issue,” Senate President Pro Tem Greg Reed said Thursday when asked about the possibility of another vote.

A conference committee this week proposed a compromise to authorize a state lottery and “electronic games of chance” at four dog tracks and three bingo halls. It would also direct the governor to negotiate a compact with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. If approved by lawmakers, the proposal would got to an Aug. 20 statewide vote.

The House of Representatives approved the proposed compromise plan, but it failed by one vote in the Senate.

Some state senators who voted no said they are getting pressure both to change their vote or to hold fast in their opposition.

Republican Sen. Lance Bell, who supported an earlier version of the bill, voted no on the conference committee proposal. “You are basically giving full casinos,” Bell said of the plan.

“I have to vote my conscience. And what I’ve told my people is if this was an education lottery, 100% I would be voting yes. But it’s not,” Bell said.

Alabamians last voted on the issue of gambling in 1999 when voters rejected a lottery proposed by then-Gov. Don Siegelman. The issue since has become politically intertwined with allowing casinos and gambling machines and the related turf wars over where those would be located.

Then-Gov. Robert Bentley came close to winning approval for a lottery in 2016 but the measure failed on its final vote amid similar disagreements over electronic gambling machines.

The current Alabama Constitution includes a prohibition on gambling, banning lotteries and “any scheme in the nature of a lottery.” To change the Constitution to allow gambling requires approval by three-fifths of lawmakers and then a majority of voters.

Republican Sen. Greg Albritton, a member of the conference committee who voted against the bill when it came to the Senate floor, said he has gotten “hundreds and hundreds of notifications” from Facebook, emails and texts about the bill.

“Frankly, 50% of them say thank you, and 50% of them call me other names,” Albritton said. “But I’m sure those that voted yes are getting the same emails. This is a controversial and difficult, complicated matter.”

Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton, the Democratic senator on the conference committee, said he is hopeful that supporters can get the needed votes because the state will need additional money when federal pandemic relief funds end.

“I’m just hoping that they can come around and give the state of Alabama what it needs, because we need this new income,” Singleton said.

The Poarch Creeks, which operate three sites with electronic bingo machines, opposes the bill. The tribe has previously sought a compact that, in exchange for sharing revenue with the state, would give them either exclusivity over casino games or an additional casino site in the state.

Lawmakers have three meeting days remaining in the legislative session. The session could conclude next week.