Alabama Gaming Bills Likely Headed to Conference Following Senate Changes

Posted on: March 8, 2024, 09:07h. 

Last updated on: March 8, 2024, 10:08h.

The future of an Alabama lottery, tribal and commercial casinos, and sports betting will likely be determined in a conference committee. That’s after the Senate made vast changes to the bills passed last month by the House of Representatives.

Alabama gaming casino sports betting
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) speaks during her inauguration on Jan. 14, 2019. Ivey is supportive of bringing Las Vegas-style casinos and sports betting to Alabama. But state lawmakers have differing opinions. (Image: Montgomery Advertiser)

The Alabama Senate on Thursday approved the two gaming bills by a 22-11 vote. The legislation, House Bills 151 and 152, were forwarded to the Senate from the House. They called for the authorization of six commercial casinos, a state-run lottery, sports betting, and as many as four tribal casinos with Las Vegas-style slot machines and table games.

For gaming to expand in the Cotton State, voters have the final say. Since the gaming measures being considered are to initiate a statewide ballot referendum asking voters to amend the Alabama Constitution, three-fifths support is required in each chamber.

Senate leadership didn’t believe there was adequate support for the gaming package the House sent. That led to severe cuts to the bills, including the removal of the commercial casinos and sports betting components.

Conference Committee Expected

The Senate version of HB 151/152 calls for a state-run lottery and pari-mutuel wagering, including slot-like historical horse racing (HHR) machines at the state’s four former dog racetracks, and possibly at three additional venues in the counties of Houston, Lowndes, and Greene. The Senate bills also allow the governor to enter into a Class III gaming compact with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. That would turn their electronic bingo casinos in Atmore, Montgomery, and Wetumpka into full-scale tribal casinos with traditional slots and live dealer table games.

The statutes have now returned to the House, where representatives can go along with the changes and send the  question to voters. The Senate alterations also included changing the date of the gaming referendum from coinciding with the November presidential election to a special election held on September 10.

If the House seeks that avenue and folds on its wishes to bring commercial casinos and sports betting to the state, only a simple majority is needed for the gaming expansion referendum to pass. The odds are better that House leaders will call for a conference committee, where designated lawmakers from each chamber will meet to iron out the House and Senate differences.

I think that conference is where we’ll be able to get a product out that will satisfy both chambers,” said Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro). “I don’t know what that is going to look like, but we will have a comprehensive game plan, hopefully.”

Alabama voters haven’t been asked a gaming question since 1999, when they rejected a lottery proposal 54-46%.

Putting People in Power

Alabama remains free of most forms of gambling, with its tribal casinos offering electronic bingo games and small charitable games of chance being the exceptions. Lawmakers supportive of legalizing gambling say the state is missing out on lost tax revenue from state residents gambling online via unregulated platforms, and patronizing casinos and making sports bets in other states.

Recent polling suggests Alabamans are ready to expand gambling. House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville) says it’s time to give the public the chance to weigh in.

“People want to vote. That’s what our polling shows. It’s overwhelming that the people of Alabama want a chance to vote,” Ledbetter said.