Weeks after it appeared, a plan to allow Alabama residents to vote on legalizing a cornucopia of gaming had died. Now, new legislation is resurrecting the concept.
The Alabama Senate passed a package of bills last week that could establish a lottery, casino gaming, and both live and online sports betting in the Yellowhammer State. The House will now take up the legislation. AL.com reported that House Speaker Mac McCutcheon said he will make it a priority for legislators to vote on those bills before the session ends on May 17.
If state lawmakers give the OK, then Alabama voters will get the chance to approve or deny the wide-ranging gaming plan in the November 2022 general election.
Gaming bill creates casinos, allows many types of wagers
Although the plan focuses on live, in-state betting, the constitutional amendment would authorize the Alabama Gaming Commission to approve sports betting, both in person at casinos and through the internet, including on mobile apps.
The amendment would allow six new casinos in the state. Alabama already has three casinos operated by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians in Atmore, Montgomery, and Wetumpka that offer slot-like electronic bingo games.
Four casinos would be authorized at the state’s former greyhound tracks, none of which still offer live dog racing, but which instead have electronic bingo. These include the Birmingham Race Course, Greenetrack in Greene County, Victoryland in Macon County, and the Mobile greyhound facility. The legislation includes the Crossing at Big Creek bingo facility in Houston County, and the bills would authorize another casino in DeKalb or Jackson counties at a site owned by the Poarch Creeks.
This could potentially give Alabama nine casinos, all of which would be authorized to offer sports betting, horse racing bets, and standard casino games such as blackjack, craps, and poker. The minimum age to play would be 21. The state would have to enter into a compact with the Poarch Creeks, subject to approval by federal regulators.
The amendment sets a tax rate of 20% on casino game revenue and sports bets in casinos not located on Native American lands. It allows the Alabama Legislature to increase the tax rate every five years by two percentage points, with the rate never exceeding 30%.
Lottery tickets would be available for purchase at authorized retailers, including at convenience stores — a standard practice in other states.
Debate over likelihood of passage
Gov. Kay Ivey backed the far-reaching plan after a study group found that Alabama would benefit from comprehensive legalization and regulation rather than from a patchwork gambling effort. Backers of the lottery worry that largely conservative Alabama voters won’t support an amendment to allow so many legal forms of gambling into the state.
The Legislative Services Agency estimates that, if approved, the plan could generate $500 million to $700 million annually in tax revenue. The legislation directs much of the lottery money to the state’s education fund, and to establish a scholarship program for students. The bills direct most of the casino tax revenue to expand broadband access in the state and for health care.