Alabama’s push to legalize casino gaming and establish a state lottery has passed its first test, but not without an eruption of dissent from the state senate.
Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh’s (R-Anniston) SB 453 bill, which seeks to legalize casino gambling at the state’s four greyhound tracks, was approved by the Tourism and Marketing Committee by a vote of 6-2 this week.
An opposing Alabama gambling bill, sponsored by Senator Trip Pittman (R-Montgomery), which called for the creation of a lottery without casino gaming was rejected by the committee.
This was expected: Del Marsh is, after all, the chairman of this committee, but the issue of casino gambling remains a deeply divisive issue within the Alabama Senate.
Del Marsh argues that a recent poll suggests Alabamians want to have the right to vote on both a lottery and casino gambling.
Because the proposed legislation would require an amendment to the Alabama State Constitution, it will require a public vote to pass.
The study, commissioned by Del Marsh and conducted by the Auburn University of Montgomery, found that gambling expansion would create around 11,000 jobs and generate up to $400 million for the state.
Del Marsh is promoting SB 454 as a viable alternative to the $541 million tax hike proposed by Governor Robert Bentley.
However, not everyone is as enthused about the legislation as Del Marsh, not least the governor, who has described SB 454 as “one of the worst pieces of legislation” he has ever seen.
Del Marsh’s Republican colleagues were no less scathing. Senator Dick Brewbaker complained that he felt Republicans had betrayed the ideals of the party by supporting gambling, which, he said, had once been a cause célèbre of the Democrat Party.
“When you’ve got a turnaround of this magnitude, I’m telling you there is something that stinks badly here,” said Brewbaker. “Republicans, when you go back to your districts, just tell the people who supported you that we are the party of gaming.
“When the best we can do is victimize people [by approving gambling],” he continued, “…we are talking about a voluntary, unlimited tax that statistically we know the lower end of the income scale provides most of the money.”
Taxes and Hypocrisy
Senator Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro) took the floor to blast Brewbaker for what he saw as an essentially hypocritical stance on the issue.
“You don’t care nothing about poor folk,” he said, addressing Brewbaker. “You don’t care about who it hurts. I haven’t seen you come up here and advocate for one job in my community, not one time, over in west Alabama where poor folk are.
“We’ve got the lowest property taxes in the United States of America,” he continued. “Nobody wants to talk about that. Let’s raise taxes on cars. But nobody wants to talk about that. Why don’t we be honest?”
SB 453 will now progress to the full Senate, where it is likely to face some stiff opposition.