The debate over SB 214 began Thursday after the Senate Tourism and Marketing Committee unanimously approved it on Wednesday. Sen. Del Marsh's bill would shut down electronic bingo sites, but card and paper games could continue. The casinos would be located at four existing dog tracks plus a fifth site in north Alabama that would be run by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.
On Thursday, the Alabama Senate floor began debate on a bill to allow a lottery, casinos and sports wagering in the state following an 11-0 vote of approval from the Senate Tourism and Marketing Committee on Wednesday.
SB 214 sponsor Sen. Del Marsh said he will not seek a vote until lawmakers return from next week's legislative break, the Associated Press reports. He said he plans to spend the next week working on the legislation.
Some lawmakers said they are concerned their districts were not included in five casino locations spelled out in the bill. "Southeast Alabama was left out, the Dothan area. I’ve had a lot of calls wanting to know why Dothan was left out,” Republican Sen. Donnie Chesteen, R-Geneva, said.
The area had a facility that offered electronic bingo games, which resemble slot machines, but state law enforcement pushed to shut it down. Marsh’s bill would shut down electronic bingo sites, although card and paper games could continue. ”I’ve had at least four others in this chamber come to me with the same situation," Marsh replied to Chesteen.
Houston County’s Center Stage Bingo, also known at the Crossing at Big Creek, said it is “disheartened” it was left out of new state gambling legislation. “The Wiregrass area is consistently overlooked by state leaders when it comes to economic development projects,” Center Stage said in a statement on Thursday. It also urged Wiregrass residents to contact their local state representatives and Gov. Kay Ivey to demand that the Wiregrass be included in the legislation.
"We’re concerned as it is written (the bill) essentially will close (Center Stage) down,” Houston County Chairman Mark Culver told WTVY on Thursday. However, State Senator Donnie Chesteen (R-Geneva), said after consulting with state leaders, he believes any shutdown would be brief. He anticipates Center Stage, with its electronic bingo machines, would likely reopen quickly under authority granted by a state gaming commission proposed in the bill.
Marsh said that he was looking at adding up to two additional sites, but cautioned that he did not think voters would approve a gambling bill that allowed a large number of casinos.
The bill proposes establishing a state lottery as well as five casinos offering table games, sports betting and slot machines. The casinos would be located at four existing dog tracks plus a fifth site in north Alabama that would be run by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, the state’s only federally recognized Native American tribe. The proposal also would encourage the governor to negotiate with the Poarch Band for a compact involving their three other sites which currently have electronic bingo machines.
The proposal needs an amendment to the State Constitution, so it would have to be approved by a three-fifths majority of each chamber of the Alabama Legislature and then a majority of voters in the 2022 general election that November.
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 as authorized by this amendment. Alabama is one of just five states without a state lottery.
Marsh said the location the tribe would operate would be in either Jackson or DeKalb counties. The other four would be at VictoryLand dog track in Macon County, Greenetrack in Green County, the racecourse in Birmingham and the racecourse in Mobile, which is owned by the Poarch Band.
There is also a sports betting-exclusive bill currently in the House, with HB 161 referred to that chamber’s committee on Economic Development and Tourism after an initial reading earlier this month.