Voters deserve chance to consider lottery proposal

Published 3:00 am Friday, August 12, 2016

Come Monday, Alabama lawmakers will return to Montgomery and once again consider if the people have the right to vote on a statewide lottery.

The special session called by Gov. Robert Bentley has one goal: to consider a lottery proposal that Bentley says would generate $225 million for the state’s general fund and solve funding crises in critical programs, including Medicaid.

The governor says it’s the only reliable, consistent way to secure funding for the health and welfare of Alabama’s children. Critics say it’s not enough and, if the state were better at managing its resources, a lottery wouldn’t be needed.

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What we don’t know yet is what the public will say.

If lawmakers pass a constitutional amendment allowing a lottery by Aug. 24 – and it seems plausible they will this time – the amendment will be placed on the Nov. 8 general election ballot. And voters throughout the state will decide whether or not to ratify the amendment and, in turn, approve a state lottery.

Alabama is one of only six states without a statewide lottery. Voters soundly defeated Gov. Don Siegelman’s lottery proposal in 1999, voting 54 percent to 46 percent against approval. Since then, though, the pendulum has shifted.

Earlier this week, the Alabama Forestry Association released results of a poll it commissioned on the lottery issue. Some 600 likely Republican primary voters were polled, and 50 percent responded they would either strongly or somewhat approve the creation of an Alabama lottery. Ten percent slightly disapproved and only 32 percent strongly disapproved. The remainder of voters polled were undecided.

Whether that poll indicates true support for the passage of a lottery is anyone’s guess. Alabama is largely evangelical state, with staunch opponents of gambling of any kind who vocally opposed both a state lottery and the expansion of casino or Indian gaming. And a lottery is polarizing on its best day.

We’ve said before that Alabama voters deserve the chance to consider a valid, reasonable lottery proposal. Lawmakers have the chance to create just that next week during the special session.