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Posted on: March 5, 2024, 10:47h. 

Last updated on: March 5, 2024, 11:58h.

The Alabama Senate has greatly amended a gaming package passed last month by the state House of Representatives.

Alabama Senate gaming bill casino lottery
The Alabama Senate’s consideration of a gaming package approved by the House of Representatives has generated much intrigue from the public. Senate lawmakers have proposed ditching sports betting and commercial casinos in favor of tribal gaming, a lottery, and pari-mutuel betting machines. (Image: WSFA)

The lower chamber in February approved a gaming package that seeks to authorize a state-run lottery, sports betting, and six commercial casinos. It would also allow the Poach Band of Creek Indians to pivot their electronic bingo-based gaming properties into Class III tribal casinos with Las Vegas-style slots and table games. The House gaming measure additionally would have allowed the state’s lone federally recognized tribe to pursue a fourth casino in the northern part of the state.

The package is a legislative-initiated effort to amend the Alabama Constitution through a statewide ballot referendum. The measure requires three-fifths majority support in each chamber. The House approved the gaming package, 70-32.

However, upon arrival in the upper chamber, Senate lawmakers have begun greatly amending the bills — officially House Bill 151 and 152.

Senate Shakedown  

Alabama lawmakers have considered gaming bills nearly every legislative session since 1999, when voters rejected a ballot referendum to authorize a lottery. The state is one of the most restrictive gaming states, as Alabama remains free of commercial and Class III tribal casinos, sports betting, lottery gaming, and iGaming.

Many thought this might be the year proponents of bringing gambling to Alabama might finally secure a win. Gov. Kay Ivey (R) is among the supporters of legalizing casinos and a lottery. But much resistance appears to remain in the state Senate.

After fielding the gaming bills and directing the statutes to the Senate Tourism Committee, Senators have proposed vast changes to the House measures. The committee has yet to vote on HB 151/152.

The draft of the Senate’s gaming substitute does away with commercial casinos and sports betting, but maintains the formation of a lottery. The Senate proposal also allows the Poach Creek Indians to enter into a Class III gaming compact with the state to transition their electronic bingo casinos in Atmore, Montgomery, and Wetumpka into full-scale tribal casinos.

The Senate’s revised constitutional amendment would permit pari-mutuel wagering, including slot-like historical horse racing machines, at existing and new horse racetracks and tracks that previously ran dog racing.

Senate leadership, including longtime gaming proponent Sen. Greg Albritton (R-Atmore), have suggested that there aren’t enough votes in the chamber to approve the House gaming package. For the package to move to voters, 21 Senate votes among the 34-member chamber are needed.

Special Election

The Senate’s adjustments additionally include removing the gaming question from the November presidential ballot in favor of holding a special election on the issue in September. That could be because of concerns that a gaming referendum would spur strong Democratic voter turnout.

In December, Sen. Chris Elliott (R-Baldwin) raised concerns that a gaming push might incentivize Democrats to vote. Along with picking the next president, Alabama’s 2024 ballot will include a hotly contested congressional race after the state’s 2nd Congressional District was redrawn in 2023 by a federal court.

Federal judges ruled that Alabama had unconstitutionally packed Black voters in its southern “Black Belt” — a term that originally referred to the Mobile County to Georgia border region’s rich, black soil — into its 7th Congressional District. The map redraw has dispersed Black voters into Republican strongholds, prompting concerns that the Alabama GOP could lose the 2nd congressional seat this November.

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