Dueling lottery bills go before Alabama lawmakers
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama lawmakers have offered up dueling lottery proposals, highlighting old divisions about a state lottery and electronic gambling.
The Senate Tourism and Marketing Committee on Thursday held public hearings on separate lottery bills. The committee will vote on the bills at a later date.
A bill by Republican Sen. Jim McClendon would launch a state lottery and also allow video lottery terminals at state dog tracks in Birmingham, Macon County, Greene County and Mobile, as well as Lowndes County. A bill by Republican Sen. Greg Albritton would allow a lottery with paper tickets only.
Voters would have to approve any lottery proposal.
Proponents of McClendon’s bill said electronic games would bring jobs and revenue to economically struggling counties, including areas where jobs were lost as the state shut down casinos with electronic bingo machines.
“It ensures jobs and increases jobs in the state of Alabama,” said McClendon, R-Springville.
Albritton’s bill also would allow a lottery but limit games to a traditional lottery with paper tickets.
“It does give an opportunity so the people of Alabama can make the decision whether we have a lottery or not,” Albritton, R-Range, said.
Joe Godfrey, executive director of the Alabama Citizens Action Program, asserted during the public hearing that the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, which now operate electronic bingo machines, would be in a position to have casino games if the state started a lottery. He said a lottery is considered a Class III game under Indian gaming regulations along with casino games.
“If we have Class III gambling, they can have Class III gambling,” said Godfrey, a longtime gambling opponent.
The tribe disputed that.
“It does not automatically give us Class III. ... There has to be a compact that’s negotiated. It doesn’t force the state of Alabama to negotiate a compact at all. We could ask for a compact. They could say no,” said Cody Williamson, who heads Creek Indian Enterprises.
A similar turf war over gambling helped doom lottery legislation proposed three years ago by then-Gov. Robert Bentley.
The Alabama Senate approved a lottery bill in 2016, but the support fell apart after the House of Representatives added language limiting the games to paper tickets so that video lottery terminals would not be allowed.
Alabama is one of five states — along with Utah, Alaska, Hawaii, and Nevada — without an authorized state lottery.
Opponents of both bills urged lawmakers to keep Alabama’s status as a non-lottery state.
“Lotteries target poor communities,” said Becky Gerritson, executive director of the Eagle Forum of Alabama.