An Alabama Senate committee approved on Wednesday a legislative proposal seeking to expand gambling in the state. The plan calls for five new casinos, two satellite casinos, legalization of sports betting, a lottery, and a state commission to regulate gaming. The two-bill plan passed the Tourism Committee 9-1 after a public hearing, putting the legislation now in line for a vote in the Senate.
“This is not a gaming expansion,” said legislation sponsor Sen. Greg Albritton, according to Alabama.com. “This is a gaming control bill, so that the state exercises its sovereignty over this industry, just like it does the chicken industry; just like it does the construction industry. It exercises sovereignty and regulates the operations. It controls the growth in locations and it taxes them.”
While legislation opposers expressed concerns the gambling proposal would cut back electronic bingo operations in Greene County and Lowndes County, which provide jobs and revenue in their communities, Albritton argued Alabama needed statewide regulation because it currently received no tax revenue or benefit from gambling already being conducted.
“In my bill, we immediately begin gathering that data so we can find out who’s doing what and how much,” Albritton said in regards to whether the legislation would eventually cause the shutdown of existing gaming venues, according to WSFA 12 New. “So, we need to find out a lot of questions on this before we can make a decision of who’s going to remain in and who isn’t.”
His words, however, did not seem to satisfy county officials and lobbyists. Ryan DeGraffenried Jr., representative for one of the bingo operations in Greene County, said the venue would close as the legislation designates the Greenetrack facility for a casino while shutting down bingo venues. “It’s our contention this bill is picking winners and losers again,” DeGraffenried said. “We ask this body and the entire legislature to consider letting the market dictate who survives down there.”
Albritton further said he wanted to see the legislation on the Senate calendar as early as next week, and expects the bills to move quickly through the Senate. However, he didn’t comment on expectations for passage: the legislation requires three-fifths of senators and representatives to approve it in order to go on the ballot for voters to have the final say.
The legislation, introduced earlier this month, is similar to one that passed the Senate last year, but which ultimately lacked enough support for a vote in the House of Representatives. Voters last had a chance to vote on a lottery in 1999, when a proposal by Gov. Don Siegelman was rejected. The four states that border Alabama do have lotteries.
Albritton’s proposal calls for the creation of the Alabama Education Lottery, which would support education scholarships. It would also create a state gambling commission, responsible for awarding a single license for casinos at Greenetrack in Greene County, Birmingham Race Course, Victoryland in Macon County, the Mobile County Greyhound Racing Facility.
The commission would also grant a casino license in either DeKalb or Jackson county, which would be operated by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, explains Alabama Public Radio. This would be determined under a compact between the governor and the tribe, which would also allow the tribe to add full casino gaming to its three electronic bingo facilities in Atmore, Wetumpka and Montgomery.
Additionally, the bills call for licenses for two venues that would be permitted to offer a limited number of electronic games, in Houston County and Lowndes County, but no Vegas-style gaming. Net gambling revenues for casinos and sports betting would be taxed at a 20% rate.
According to Albritton, the plan would put a cap on the number of casinos in the state, plus provide control over electronic bingo venues. These facilities currently operate under local constitutional amendments, despite the Alabama Supreme Court having ruled that electronic bingo machines are illegal slot machines.
“All the operations are going on now. Nothing comes into the state, whether that be PCI (the Poarch Creeks), whether that be Greene County, whether that be Lowndes County, the state does not receive a penny,” said the Senator, according to Alabama.com.