Discussions On two bills: 151, 152

Alabama: Lawmakers brace for challenges as gambling legislation resumes post-spring break

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Negotiations on the much-debated gambling legislation are set to resume this week as the Alabama Legislature reconvenes following a week-long hiatus.

Throughout the 2024 legislative session, gambling has remained a focal point of discussion among lawmakers, despite a week-long delay over IVF-related issues. The debate centers around two bills aimed at establishing comprehensive gaming regulations in Alabama, 1819 News reported.

House Bill 151 (HB151) seeks to repeal all constitutional amendments permitting gambling in select areas of the state and abolish the state's constitutional gambling prohibition. House Bill 152 (HB152), also sponsored by State Rep. Chris Blackshear, initially proposed provisions legalizing casino gaming at specified locations, establishing a statewide lottery, and permitting online sports betting.

Both bills passed the House in February with significant support. After extensive deliberation, the Senate passed both bills on March 8, albeit with amendments that substantially altered the original legislation.

The Senate's amendments include provisions for a statewide lottery and a mandate for the governor to negotiate a gambling compact with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians (PCI). Notably, the Senate's version excludes sports betting, online gambling, or new non-PCI casinos, unlike the House's proposal. The constitutional amendment is scheduled for a vote in the Senate on September 10 during a special election.

The revised Senate bills also authorize pari-mutuel wagering, including historical horse racing at select racetracks and bingo halls across the state.

Following a nearly month-long delay, the amended Senate bills await action in the House. With lawmakers returning from Spring Break, the debate is expected to resume, although the outcome remains uncertain.

The House faces three options: voting to concur with the Senate's substitutes, voting to non-concur and initiating a conference committee to reconcile differences, or leaving the bills pending, effectively halting progress, the report said.

According to State Rep. Chris Blackshear, discussions on the legislation did not occur during Spring Break, but negotiations are expected to resume as the new week commences.

"We're meeting again this week. The last time we met was the Thursday we adjourned before Spring Break, and we're supposed to be picking up those conversations this week. We just wanted to let people enjoy their break. We've got budgets and a bunch of important things coming up, but we're going to take [gambling] up this week and start trying to get some direction," Blackshear was quoted as saying in the report.

Lawmakers have been tight-lipped about potential compromises and the path forward, particularly given the narrow passage of the substituted Senate bill. Even if both chambers reach a compromise, the legislation will require approval from Governor Kay Ivey.

Governor Ivey initially expressed support for the gambling bills following their passage in the House, but she has since stated that she will thoroughly review the amended legislation passed by the Senate.

Speaking with Alabama Daily News, Senator Greg Albritton voiced concerns about the anticipated outcome. 

“I may be wrong, but my take on this is that the House does not have the votes to concur and I don’t know where they stand as far as going to conference. But then you get to the point of, if we go to conference, what changes will be acceptable to both bodies and particularly where both bodies will probably have to change the constitutional amendment, which will require a three-fifths vote in each house. That’s a very heavy lift," he was quoted as saying in the report.

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