Alabama Gaming Expansion Bills to be Amended, Senator Says

Alabama Gaming Expansion Bills to be Amended, Senator Says
Fact Checked by Michael Peters

Two bills that could open the door to a massive expansion of legalized gaming in Alabama are currently being reviewed and will be amended before they go before the Senate, a lawmaker told colleagues Wednesday afternoon.

Because of that, state Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Bay Minette, asked the Senate Tourism Committee to hold House Bills 151 and 152 even though he believed he had the votes needed to take them to the Senate floor.

“I’m tempted to try to do something on that line,” he said. “However, I know that there have been hours of work trying to find a solution so that we can find a path to a workable bill that’s comprehensive in nature. That will resolve the issues to give us the caps, the controls and the collections of revenue that we need here in Alabama. So that we don’t have a rampant Wild West out there. That we can actually enforce and regulate as we should.”

Albritton’s comments came after a 40-minute committee meeting that was contentious at times and featured several citizens speaking out against expanded gambling. Democratic members also raised concerns their caucus was being excluded from discussions about changes to the bill.

Alabama is one of five states without a state lottery and one of a dozen without sports betting. HBs 151 and 152, which the House passed two weeks ago, could change that. HB 151 calls for a voter referendum on the November ballot to amend the state constitution and legalize a lottery, Alabama sports betting and commercial casinos. HB 152 is the enacting legislation. HB 152 only needs a simple majority to pass on the Senate floor. HB 151 requires 21 yes votes from its 35 members.

Alabama Tribe Raises Concerns

As the bills are currently written, Alabama would be in line to license seven commercial casinos. The Poarch Band of Creek Indians currently operates three Class II casinos in the state, and the measures would allow Gov. Kay Ivey to enter into a gaming compact with the tribe to convert the existing facilities into Class III resorts.

Tribes with Class II casinos can offer electronic bingo games that look like slot machines. Class III casinos are Vegas-style venues with actual slot machines and live-dealer table games. The Alabama-based tribe would also be eligible to receive one of the commercial casino licenses. However, Robbie McGhee, the vice chairman of the Poarch Band and its chief public affairs officer, told the committee Wednesday the state’s only federally recognized sovereign nation has concerns about HB 152 as it’s currently written.

“This bill, at this point, does not specify any timeline for the compact negotiation to begin nor to be completed, and that would make it hard, if not impossible, for us to either plan or budget,” he said.

Opponents Raise Fears

Others at the hearing, though, urged lawmakers not to let their fellow citizens decide if the state should legalize gaming, arguing that introducing casinos will lead to increases in human trafficking and other crimes and that sports betting operators seek to lure kids into betting.

Licensed Alabama betting apps would only be allowed to take wagers from adults ages 21 and older. Those seeking to register for an account with an operator will need to verify their identification and prove they’re old enough to place bets.

Whitney Haynes, a mother of six and a teacher, coach and farmer in Coleman County, told lawmakers she and her husband have met several people who have moved to Alabama from places like Oregon, California and New York. Those people all share something in common when it comes to why they relocated to the southern state.

“Do you know what they’re running from,” she asked. “Immorality, a change of morals and values. A place they felt was no longer fit to raise a family.”

She added that legalized gambling would harm small businesses and the mostly rural state.

“What may be viewed as cheap entertainment for some will, in fact, make victims of so many children in our state,” she added. “While some chase an easy dollar in a game they are intended to lose, the poor will only get poorer, the quality of life for so many Alabamians will rapidly decline and will begin a swift deterioration from which it may be impossible to recover.”

If the bills are amended and approved by the Senate, the House will need to reconsider them. If House lawmakers agree, it will go to Gov. Kay Ivey for her signature. If not, lawmakers from both sides will form a conference committee to work out an agreement. That agreement must be reached before the Alabama Legislature concludes its 2024 session on May 20.



Steve Bittenbender

Steve is an accomplished, award-winning reporter with more than 20 years of experience covering gaming, sports, politics and business. He has written for the Associated Press, Reuters, The Louisville Courier Journal, The Center Square and numerous other publications. Based in Louisville, Ky., Steve has covered the expansion of sports betting in the U.S. and other gaming matters.

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