Local Representatives talk Alabama’s gaming bill

Published 10:00 am Tuesday, February 13, 2024

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Alabama’s legislation began its session with a long-awaited and detailed bill on gaming and lottery, and Chambers County’s representatives seem to be cautiously optimistic about it.

“There’s several different parts to the bill. It’s not just lottery,” said Alabama Representative Debbie Wood. “And I think the biggest thing it does is it goes back to the vote of the people.”

The bill would also establish the Alabama Gaming Commission, which will be an entity to police illegal gambling and supervise any casinos and the funds that they gain. 

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The bill would introduce a lottery into the state. Many Alabamians travel over state lines at border cities like Lanett and Valley to buy lottery tickets. 

Senator Randy Price said most of them are stopping to pump gas and maybe even buy groceries outside of the state, and the goal is to bring those dollars back into the state. 

“We have gaming and lottery, etcetera, in every border that we touch,” Price said. 

Representative Bob Fincher said he has always supported bringing the lottery into the state. Fincher said he hopes to see the funds from the lottery and casinos coming back into the state for the education and general fund, which is the current wording of the bill. 

“Here in Alabama, we already have a very large problem with illegal gaming,” Price said, who hopes the gaming commission will end illegal gambling and ensure the state gets its share of the earnings. “… “We have a piece of legislation that will take away illegal Gaming here in the state of Alabama.”

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey herself supported the bill bringing gambling into the state in her address, saying that citizens should have the right to vote. 

“Now is the time for Alabama voters to have another say on this issue,” she said. 

The bill sanctions certain locations for casinos to be built which can house card tables, roulette, blackjack, poker and video poker. 

Still, Fincher said there is a lot to be reviewed before the bill is ready to be voted on. 

After the bill is reviewed and approved by both the House of Representatives and the Senate, the public will get the chance to vote on it. 

Another key element of the bill allows the governor to enter into a compact with the Poarch Creek Indians on one of the casinos that will be located in the northeastern corner of the state. With all the regulations, funds from the lottery and the casinos would be split between the education fund and the general fund. 

Wood said she approves of the public vote and the gaming commission aspects of the bill. The bill will also limit the number of casinos in the state to seven. Their locations are designated as Macon County, Greene County, Mobile County, Birmingham, Houston County, and Lowndes County in the bill’s wording.

The seventh casino will be under the compact with the Poarch Creek Indians, who currently have three legal casinos on tribal land within the state. The bill would also expand class three gaming in the casinos they already have.

“I do like that it limits the size to seven possible locations. So we’re not going to see casinos or gaming on every corner in our state,” Wood said.

Still, there are some aspects of the bill that Wood said need to be amended. For example, the formal language of the bill states that 501(c)(3) organizations can do paper bingo and not pay taxes but some organizations are considered 501(c)(10).