Update on Alabama Gaming Bill

Published 10:10 am Saturday, March 23, 2024

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The Alabama gaming bill has stalled in the Senate. However, there is still a path to passing the bill when the Alabama legislative session returns after Spring break.

The Alabama House of Representatives passed a gaming bill 70-32 through to the Senate with bipartisan support on Feb. 15.

House Bill 151 proposed an amendment to the state constitution, allowing for “five limited forms of gaming activating: An official state lottery administered by a public lottery corporation, casino-style games conducted only in person at up to seven locally approved licensed gaming establishments, limited sports wagering, traditional raffles, and traditional paper bingo. All other forms of gaming in the state would be prohibited.”

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There was a partner bill that passed through the house, HB 152. If the gaming bill passed, the governor would establish a state gaming commission and lottery corporation, which would regulate the legal forms of gaming proposed and police those that would remain prohibited.

While both HB 151 and HB 152 were passed by the Senate, both had several amendments added to them. The Senate took out all forms of gaming activity except a lottery, with some limited horse betting allowed at certain casinos, cutting sports betting and casino tabletop and card games out of the original bill. The Senate also made an amendment saying the funds from the state lottery would be split three ways — the education fund, the Department of Transportation and the general fund. In the House bill, funding had exclusively gone to the education fund, similar to the Georgia Lottery. 

A provision made in the original bill that has remained states, “The Governor may negotiate and execute a compact for all activities allowable in this bill with Poarch Band of Creek Indians.” The federally recognized tribe already operates some casinos in Atmore, Montgomery and Wetumpka. What the compact would entail would be up to Governor Kay Ivey. 

As far as the revisions, Chambers County House Representative Debbie Wood said the sports betting being cut was a loss for the community.

“The majority of the calls I’ve received from constituents that are upset, it’s been over sports gaming. I’ve seen the numbers as to how large that is with people that are using offshore accounts now for sports gaming,” Wood said. 

Wood added that many of the complaints about the exclusion of sports betting have come from young white males, which Wood said is not often a demographic she hears from.  

Wood argued that the stipulation of the governor forming a compact with the Poarch Band is not specific enough. 

“The Senate’s version is up to the governor to enter into the compact with the Poarch. So what that compact would be, I don’t know… I would like for it to list what the options are,” Wood said. 

In the House’s version, the compact would allow the band to have Class III games, which include table and card games, on tribal lands.

Now that the Senate has sent the revisions back to the House, the next step would be for the Speaker of the House to call a conference with the Senate.

“It’s in the Speaker’s hand now in the house. What typically happens is he finds people to conference with the Senate… Then they arbitrate, try to work it out among themselves, and then they come back to their perspective leaders. Tell them they’ve worked it out, or they can’t work it out. And then we move forward. So I’m anticipating or hoping that that happens,” Wood said.

If a revision is agreed upon, the bill will go to the governor to sign. Because it is a constitutional amendment, the final decision would be up to the voters. The original bill stipulated a special election on Sept. 14 to vote on the amendment, if it is passed by both chambers and the governor.  According to the Senate’s fiscal note on the bill, a special election would cost $5 million and come from the state’s general fund. 

“I wished it would just be on the general election so the state doesn’t pay those extra dollars. But when you have a special election, you do have the people that are tuned into that one issue, and it’s a priority for them to vote for or against it and come out. I can understand that,” Wood said. 

Wood said there has not been communication on when the speaker would form the conference committee with the Senate. The legislature has had a two-week break and will return to session on Tuesday. 

There are only 30 legislative days in a session. After the break, there are 12 days left of legislative ability to pass bills, Wood said. Days working on committees are not counted in those legislative days, however. 

“Let’s say they go to the conference, and we were to get it on the calendar for Thursday. That still gives us very few days to work it out for both chambers. We can do it relatively quickly. If the leaders decide that they want this to be done, it will be the priority, and we’ll get it done. But we’re running out of days,” Wood said.