Alabama Lottery Bill Clears Senate Committee but Needs Miracle

Posted on: March 3, 2018, 10:00h. 

Last updated on: March 2, 2018, 02:08h.

Alabama’s Senate Tourism and Marketing Committee approved a bill on Wednesday that would establish a lottery in a state where opportunities to gamble are thin.

Senator Paul Sandford Alabama lottery bill
Alabama State Senator Paul Sandford believes his lottery bill deserves a chance to be put to public vote but even he believes it may not have a hope in hell of getting that far down the line. (Image: Bob Gathany/

Despite movement this week, the bill remains a long shot. In Alabama, lottery bills rise and fall like tumbleweed spinning across the Black Belt Prairie.

Alabama is one of only six states in America – along with Alaska, Hawaii, Mississippi, Nevada and Utah – that does not have a lottery. The state’s three casinos are all operated by its only federally recognized tribe, the Poarch Creek Band, and offer nothing racier than electronic bingo games.

Parimutuel horse and dog racing are legal, and the Victoryland dog track was once one the biggest bingo parlors in the country – home to 7,000 electronic bingo machines. But Victoryland has been fighting a pitched battle with the state for the past decade over the legality of its operations.

Authorities closed it down in 2013 but it reopened three years later with around 500 machines, the same year that the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that bingo, in all its forms, was illegal. The relationship between the track and the governor’s office remains fractious.

Question Would Go to Referendum

Into to this inhospitable landscape skips State Senator Paul Sandford (R-Huntsville) and his lottery bill, which would allow Alabama to join multi-state lotteries like Powerball and Mega Millions. It would only embrace lottery draws and not spin-off products like scratch cards.

For this to become a reality, Alabama would first have to amend its constitution to legalize commercial gaming, which would require the approval of a public referendum. When a similar question was put to voters in 1999, this deeply conservative state roundly rejected the proposal.

So what’s changed? Well, not much, apparently. In fact, with Alabama lacking a budget deficit this year, there’s even less impetus for change, and the bill is unlikely to make it as far as the ballot.

Longs Odds

And while it cleared the committee this week by a vote of 3-2, it doesn’t bode well that the pro-lottery Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, who spearheaded the state’s doomed lottery push of 2016, voted against it.

“I don’t think that everything we do in the state ought to be under duress, to be honest – that the only reason you should consider a lottery is because ‘Ah, we can’t balance the budget all of a sudden,” Del Marsh told the Montgomery Advertiser. “I don’t think that’s appropriate.”

Other lawmakers are concerned legalizing commercial gambling could provide a springboard for the Poarch Creek Indians to establish full-scale class III gaming at their casinos. Others object on ethical or religious grounds.

At least Sandford is standing by his bill, although not as emphatically as you might hope.

“Slim to none,” he said, barely missing a beat when asked by The Advertiser to assess its chances.