Alabama Lottery Efforts Ongoing in Divided State Senate, Sponsor Says Votes Lacking

Posted on: April 8, 2021, 02:43h. 

Last updated on: April 8, 2021, 03:22h.

Alabama is one of only four states without a lottery or commercial casino. Efforts have been made in the Montgomery capital for more than two decades to change that, but to no success.

Alabama Lottery legislation gaming
Alabama Sen. Jim McClendon is seen here in the Senate chamber last month. The lawmaker is leading yet another push to bring lottery games to the state. (Image: Montgomery Advertiser)

With casinos and sports betting continuing to expand across the nation, many in Alabama believe the tide has long been rolling towards more favorable opinions regarding gambling — and, at the very least, a lottery. 

Sen. Jim McClendon (R-Springville) is leading the push to authorize a state-run lottery that would offer in-person scratch-off tickets, daily drawings, online games, and interstate participation in Mega Millions and Powerball. 

McClendon has introduced two relevant pieces of legislation. One would place a ballot referendum before voters asking if they support amending the Alabama Constitution to allow a lottery. Another establishes governing rules on how the lottery would operate and where its revenue would be directed. 

During a late-night hearing on the two lottery bills, McClendon felt he didn’t have a three-fifths (60 percent) majority needed to pass the ballot bill. He opted to postpone its consideration. 

“It was too close,” McClendon explained. “If you lose the vote, it’s over. It’s gone. So, I did not want to take that risk.”

Lottery Debate Continues

While the ballot component did not go up for vote, McClendon’s regulatory lottery aspect did. And it passed easily.

Following two amendments regarding programs the lottery would support, the so-called “enabling bill” passed by a vote of 30-2. If Alabamans do authorize a state lottery, its proceeds would benefit state education and its retirees, and also help reduce the grocery tax.

While McClendon was disappointed he didn’t have enough Senate support to pass the ballot lottery piece of legislation, he still considered last night a step in the right direction.

It was wisest to get part of the job done,” McClendon said. “We’ve got one of the bills in place.” Discussions on the matter are expected to continue next week.

The bulk of the lottery proceeds would be allocated to the Alabama Education Trust Fund (ETF), which is used for the support, maintenance, and development of K-12 public education. Five percent of the lottery ETF receipts would be set aside for retirees until that account reaches $100 million.

Over time, the lottery would also be used to reduce the current tax on groceries from four percent to two percent. 

Some Favor Wider Package

Last month, Sen. Del Marsh’s (R-Anniston) gaming package was narrowly defeated in the Senate. It garnered 19 votes in support, two short of the 21 needed to pass and put the topics before voters. 

Marsh’s legislation would have asked voters if they want a state lottery, as well as full-scale commercial casinos. Currently, the state’s lone federally recognized tribe — the Poarch Band of Creek Indians — operate Class II bingo-based electronic machines at their tribal casinos. The state and local communities do not collect a share of the tribal gaming revenue. 

Gov. Kay Ivey (R) has expressed her support for a more comprehensive gaming package over a lottery-only bill. Sen. Greg Albritton (R-Atmore), whose district includes one of the tribal casinos, shares the position. He prefers passing a lottery bill that also allows the state to legalize commercial gambling and enter into a Class III gaming compact with the tribe in order to receive a cut of their gambling win. 

“It’s time that we start acting as the grown-up in the room and taking charge of it,” Albritton stated. Marsh added, “It’s going to be nearly impossible to get a vote on a straight lottery bill. I think you’re going to have to have a comprehensive bill.”