Gaming

A new plan for a lottery, sports betting, games

A new plan for a lottery, sports betting, games

The game is back on the agenda. Sen. Greg Albritton introduced a comprehensive new gaming bill on Thursday, which would bring in a lottery, expanded gaming and sports betting if voters approve it in November.

The bill is similar to one that was the subject of a late skirmish with some Democrats — an oddity in the endless gambling wars in this state — from passing the last legislative session. Albritton’s bill irons out the handful of sticking points — primarily by providing satellite locations to facilities in Lowndes and Houston counties and opening up the bidding process in Greene County — that has caused enough chaos to derail last year’s version.

At a news conference Thursday, Albritton repeatedly said his bill had the votes to pass in both houses. It’s probably not overconfidence. Many lawmakers on both sides of the anti-gambling fight said last year’s final version of the gambling bill had enough votes to pass and that support for gambling in the state, even among Republican lawmakers, has never been higher.

“I know there will be issues and amendments added,” Albritton said. “I’ve been around enough of these bills to know it’s never what you expect. We have the votes to pass this.

It’s not hard to see why the votes are there. Attitudes toward gambling, thanks to so many options in surrounding states and around Alabama, have changed among conservative voters. With little political risk and annual revenues expected to exceed $750 million, it’s a no-brainer.

The devil, as always, will be in the details.

Albritton’s bill would authorize sports betting, a statewide lottery and five full casinos that fall under state licensing control. It would establish a gambling commission to oversee these operations.

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Revenue, under Albritton’s bill, would be split between a scholarship program (99% of lottery funds would be spent on scholarships/tuition), the general fund budget, and local governments.

The casinos would be placed at current dog run locations in Greene, Jefferson, Macon and Mobile counties, but the licenses would be auctioned off. This means that an outside entity that outbids track owners for a license would have to establish a lease agreement with the owner.

This might be a point of contention for some, but the alternative faces two key issues: 1. Current track owners have enough leverage to block legislation that would exclude them from the expansion deal, and 2. Cutting those tracks from the deal essentially means shutting down decades-old businesses operated by Alabama citizens and putting dozens of workers out of work in some of Alabama’s poorest communities. Not to mention, voters in the counties where the tracks are located have already approved Class III gaming through constitutional amendments, and those communities depend on that revenue.

In addition to the four dog trail locations, there would be a fifth location in Dekalb or Jackson County that would be operated by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. There would also be two electronic-only satellite casinos at locations in Lowndes and Houston counties.

Overall, however, while Albritton’s bill expands the types of games that can occur, it expands the actual locations of only one — the new facility in northeast Alabama.

“Gaming…is an industry that plagues our state,” Albritton said Thursday. “The state has no control over most of them. Alabama gets no benefit from it. But we still suffer the consequences. We have to take control of it. »

As always, however, when it comes to gambling bills in this state, it is rarely just about the game or the legislation’s popularity with lawmakers and the public. Personal ambition and enrichment often come into play, and there are already signs that this will be the case with this release.

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Two sources familiar with ongoing negotiations related to the gambling bill said that while lawmakers are confident Albritton’s bill has the votes to pass both houses, efforts are underway to keep him from reaching the floor in the House. During his press conference, Albritton also hinted at issues with House leadership, saying he hoped the bill would have a fair chance in the House.