Gambling bill cut down in Senate

Published 8:58 pm Friday, March 12, 2021

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The people of the State of Alabama may not get the chance to vote on a lottery, casino gaming or sports betting.

Earlier this week, Sen. Del Marsh’s comprehensive gambling bill made it to the floor of the Senate, but it fell two votes shy of passing by a narrow 19-13 margin. Because the bill would require an amendment to the Alabama  Constitution of 1901, a 3/5th majority vote is needed instead of the normal majority vote. The bill needed 21 votes to pass.

“He only needed two votes,” political analyst Steve Flowers said. “I think there are a lot of reasons it didn’t pass. I think it would have had a hard time in the House. The bill also had a lottery, casino gambling and sports betting. He may have gotten a lottery, but not all three. I think the House was his biggest problem. I think for this to pass, Gov. Kay Ivey is going to have to have to be out in front and call a special session.”

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Flowers said, the possibility exists that Marsh may retool the bill and bring it back to the floor. But, he said, most likely the bill is dead for the session.

Flowers also said there was strong opposition to the bill from north Alabama senators. He said out of the six senators in the area, only one, Sen. Steve Livingston, R-Scottsboro, voted for the bill.

“When you look at the vote, you have to remember Alabama is in the Bible Belt,” Flowers said. “North of Birmingham is the most religious part of the state — maybe in the entire nation. There may have been some social pressure on those senators to vote against it.”

Marsh’s bill called for legalized gambling at the locations of the state’s four dog racing tracks, plus an additional site in north Alabama that would be run by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. The bill would have also authorized a gambling compact at all Porch Creek bingo casinos. In addition, Lowndes and Houston counties were added to the bill as sites for casinos at the request of the respective county legislative delegations.

The estimated money generated would have been $194-$279 million for a lottery and $260-$393 million from a 20 percent tax on gaming revenue from casinos.

Flowers said the state’s budgets remain a strong priority for early in the session. Flowers said the House passed the General Fund budget this week, and that budget now moves to the Senate for debate.

“The state is in much better shape than many other states,” Flowers said. “We had good, conservative [2020] budgets put together by Rep. Steve Clouse , R-Ozark, and Rep. Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa, last year. We’re in good shape coming out of the pandemic. They’ve got plenty of time to pass the budgets, but I’d expect it to be within the next two weeks.”