Alabama Senator Warns Gambling Referendum Could Spur Democrats

Posted on: December 21, 2023, 11:04h. 

Last updated on: December 21, 2023, 11:18h.

When the Alabama Legislature convenes in March 2024, gambling matters will presumably be considered, as they have been in nearly every legislative session since 1999. One Republican in the Senate says asking voters to expand gambling by amending the Alabama Constitution might not be a smart political play.

Alabama gaming expansion Chris Elliott
Alabama Sen. Chris Elliott (R) is worried a statewide gaming referendum during the November 2024 election might entice more Democrats to vote. He suggests that the GOP would be wise to delay a gaming question until at least 2025. (Image: 1819 News)

Speaking during an interview on FM Talk 106.5’s The Jeff Poor Show, state Sen. Chris Elliott (R-Baldwin) said Republicans shouldn’t consider a gaming referendum next year. That’s because it could turn out more Democratic voters. With it already being a presidential election year, typically a time with stronger voter turnout, Elliott says a question about legalizing casinos, sports betting, a lottery, or other form of gaming would likely only further encourage Democratic voters to cast a ballot.

Elliott cited Alabama’s recently redrawn congressional map and several races that are expected to be close, perhaps none more so than the election in the newly drawn 2nd Congressional District.

I think it is pretty reasonable to say it would be a mistake to put gaming on the presidential election,” Elliott said. “It would drive up Democrats’ turnout. And that is not something that the majority in either chamber should want to do.”

Alabama House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville) said last month that he thinks the state should put a gaming package before voters. He reasoned that Alabamans are already gambling in neighboring states, through illegal online websites, or in underground casinos. Legalizing the activity, Ledbetter thinks, would provide consumer protections, generate jobs, spark the economy, and supply the state with new tax revenue.

District Redraws

In 2022, a federal court ordered Alabama to allow a court-appointed special master to redraw its congressional districts. U.S. Circuit Judge Stanley Marcus and U.S. District Judges Anna Manasco and Terry Moorer ruled that the Alabama Legislature had unconstitutionally packed Black voters into the 7th Congressional District.

The redrawn congressional map threatens the Republicans’ stronghold on CD-2, which now includes the southern Black Belt running from Mobile County to the Georgia border.

We want to be paying attention to what’s going on in CD-2, and if there is a chance for a Republican to win, I certainly don’t want to torpedo it by some action of the legislature,” Elliott continued.

U.S. Rep. Barry Moore (R) represents the current CD-2, which will be replaced with the newly drawn district come January 2025. Moore will seek reelection in Alabama’s newly mapped CD-1.

In CD-2, the field will include state Sen. Greg Albritton (R-Atmore), a staunch supporter of gaming measures in recent legislative sessions. Political observers are forecasting a Democratic win in the new CD-2. A Democrat hasn’t represented CD-2 since Bobby Bright was ousted during the November 2010 election.

Long Odds

Ever since Alabamans rejected the formation of a state lottery in 1999, gaming topics have circulated the State Capitol during legislative sessions. None have passed.

Alabama has no lottery, no commercial casinos, no tribal casinos with Las Vegas-style slot machines and table games, no sports betting, no racinos, and no online gaming. The state is only home to three tribal casinos that offer bingo-based electronic games.

Elliott says he isn’t overly worried that 2024 will be the year when the state legislature comes together to pass a gaming bill and put such a question before voters.

“I’ll be honest. I think the whole gaming conversation has got miles and miles to go before we get to any kind of solution,” Elliott concluded.