The Alabama Senate on Tuesday rejected a proposal to let voters decide on creating a lottery and allowing up to 10 casinos.
The proposal by Republican Sen. Del Marsh fell two votes short of the 21 needed to get the proposed constitutional amendment through the 35-member Alabama Senate, the Associated Press reports. 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.
“I’m not convinced this issue is a dead issue. I think it’s one we’ll have to address sooner or later,” Marsh said after his bill’s defeat.
Alabama voters in 1999 voted down then-Gov. Don Siegelman’s proposed state lottery. Marsh said polling shows that Alabamians want to vote on the idea again. “It was the people who were going to make this decision ... I’m just really a bit surprised that we didn’t let them do it,” Marsh said.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, who had supported getting the issue before voters, said she is willing to continue working on the issue if lawmakers do. “Today’s vote by the Alabama Senate confirms more work must be done, because this issue is too important to not get it right. No doubt gambling is complex and challenging, but I remain committed to giving the people of Alabama the final say,” Ivey said in a statement.
Over the past two decades, the gambling legislation in Alabama has failed under a fatal mix of conservative opposition to gambling and a turf war over which entities could have electronic gambling machines or casino games.
Alabama Senator Greg Albritton said, "I don't understand that. I just fail to understand why they do not want to regulate and control this industry." He said three more bills were filed after this one failed, and Senator Vivian Figures said she thinks it could have passed if two senators weren't out sick. She believes there's still a chance this bill could be reconsidered.
Republican Sen. Jim McClendon, who voted for Marsh’s plan, introduced a lottery bill moments after the defeat of Marsh’s legislation on Tuesday. “People in my district want a dadgum lottery,” McClendon said. He said he expected the bill to be in committee in about a week. Alabama is one of five states without a state lottery.
Previous lottery bills have failed after getting engulfed in the larger issue of gambling, and Marsh said that’s why he believes it will take a comprehensive bill to win approval. The 13 no votes were all from Republicans. Some Republicans had expressed discomfort with the idea of allowing casinos in the state.
Marsh’s original bill proposed establishing a state lottery and five casinos — one at four existing dog tracks plus a fifth site in north Alabama that would be run by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. It also authorized a compact with the Poarch Band for casino games at their three existing sites that currently have electronic bingo machines. Lawmakers on Tuesday added two additional sites to the bill after sites in Lowndes and Houston counties asked to be included. Marsh put Houston County in his substitute bill and an amendment was approved to include Lowndes.
Marsh proposed to use lottery revenue for college scholarships and other education needs. Casino revenue would be used to help expand broadband access in the state as well as to fund rural health services.
The Legislative Services Agency estimated the lottery would generate $194-$279 million annually for college scholarships awarded on a mix of need, merit and workforce needs in the state. The agency estimated the casinos would generate $260-$393 million annually from the 20% tax on gaming revenues.