Alabama Casino and Lottery Bill Passes Senate, But Residents Have Final Say

Posted on: April 14, 2021, 08:57h. 

Last updated on: April 14, 2021, 09:36h.

The Alabama Senate approved legislation this week that, if passed by the House of Representatives, would ask citizens whether they wish to authorize commercial casino gambling and initiate a state-run lottery. 

Alabama casino lottery bill legislation
The Wind Creek Atmore casino floor is seen last year. Legislation that has passed the Alabama Senate seeks to allow the gaming resort to transition into a full-scale casino, with traditional slot machines and table games. (Image: AL.com)

State senators voted 23-9 to move the gaming package to the lower chamber for additional consideration. The legislation seeks to legalize nine full-scale casinos with slot machines and table games, as well as sports betting.

Three of the casinos would be reserved for the Poarch Band of Creek Indians’ current tribal casinos in Atmore, Montgomery, and Wetumpka. The Native American casinos currently operate as Class II gaming facilities, which can only offer electronic bingo-based machines.

The six other casinos would be allocated for the counties of Jefferson, Mobile, Macon, Greene, Houston, and either Jackson or DeKalb. The six licenses would be put up for competitive bid. However, the current greyhound pari-mutuel racetracks in those counties would have the final bid. 

Gross gaming revenue (GGR) from casino gambling and sports betting would be subject to a 20 percent tax. A state-operated lottery would also be part of the gaming expansion package. Lottery proceeds would be used to support college scholarship programs. The Alabama Legislature would determine at a later time where casino taxes would go. 

Alabama is one of only four states that presently does not have a lottery or commercial casino. 

Voters Possess Power

Should the House back the gaming expansion initiative, the matter would go before voters in November through a ballot referendum. In Alabama, legislative-backed constitutional amendments require a three-fifths — or 60 percent — majority in both chambers. Ballot efforts do not require approval from the governor. 

What we are really okaying is the right for our constituents to come to the voting booth and decide if they like this or not,” said bill sponsor Sen. Jim McClendon (R-Talladega). 

If the gaming measures go before voters, only a simple majority is required for the initiative to pass and the Alabama Constitution to be amended.

Gaming Opinions

The last time Alabamans voted on a gaming question came back in 1999, when they rejected an effort to legalize a state lottery. 

Public opinion, however, has since changed regarding gambling across the country. Twenty-three states today have legalized commercial casinos, and sports betting is legal in more than two dozen states. 

Even states with long histories of opposition towards gambling — Virginia and Arkansas being two examples — have recently moved to legalize commercial casinos. It’s prompted many in Alabama into believing that there is now adequate public support to bring casinos to the state. 

“The road and the path that we’ve had to get to this point of having this bill before us has been a difficult and tortuous one,” stated Sen. Greg Albritton (R-Baldwin).

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) has lent her support to ending the state’s gambling prohibition. 

“Gambling is going on. In fact, it’s running rampant,” Ivey said recently. “Much of it is illegal. We need to put laws on the books, control gambling, enforce it, and be sure that the people of Alabama are the beneficiaries of the proceeds.”