An Alabama gambling expansion package took its baby steps in the state senate Wednesday. The Senate Tourism Committee unanimously approved the legislation, which would establish a state lottery and at least five casinos. It would also authorize sports betting and establish a gaming commission to regulate all of the above.
Alabama is one of just five states that does not have a lottery. State Sen. Greg Albritton (R-Atmore), sponsor of the legislation, says the proceeds of the proposed lotto draw would go to fund post-secondary scholarships.
If approved, the new gaming regulator would award a single casino license to each of the state’s existing racetracks: Greenetrack in Greene County, Birmingham Race Course, Victoryland in Macon County, the Mobile County Greyhound Racing Facility.
‘Not Gaming Expansion’
Meanwhile, the Poarch Creek Band of Mission Indians would be permitted to offer class III casino gaming at one of their existing class II gaming venues in DeKalb and Jackson counties.
Class III gaming is defined as full-blown Las Vegas style gaming, including slots, blackjack, craps, and roulette, while class II refers to non-house-banked games like bingo and poker.
This would allow Gov. Kay Ivey (R) to negotiate revenue-share payments with the tribe. Currently, the state gets nothing from the Poarch Creek operations because Native American tribes are permitted to offer class II gaming on their sovereign reservations without taxation under federal law.
The states’ new commercial operations would be taxed at a blanket 20 percent of gross gaming revenue.
This is not a gaming expansion,” Albritton said. “This is a gaming control bill, so that the state exercises its sovereignty over this industry, just like it does the chicken industry. Just like it does the construction industry. Just like the banking industry. It exercises a sovereignty, and it regulates the operations. It controls the growth in locations, and it taxes them.”
Albritton’s bill is similar to legislation introduced last year that was passed by the Senate but died in the House. Gambling legislation generally has a harder time of it in the Alabama House of Representatives.
The Montgomery Advertiser reports that many House Republicans are opposed to gambling for moral and religious reasons, while mistrust between the Poarch Creeks and the tracks has in the past dissuaded Democratic backing for bills that are perceived to be beneficial to one or the other.
Voices of Dissent
While the legislation sailed through the Senate committee, a public consultation prior to the vote emphasized that it’s opposed by many disparate voices and, like its predecessors, will prove to be a heavy lift.
In addition to moral objections and concerns about a potential rise in problem gambling, there were testimonies from officials from Greene and Lowndes counties. These jurisdictions depend on local charitable bingo operations for a large slice of their revenues.
Controversially, the bill would force many of these parlors to close within two years of its enactment to make way for the new casinos.
Ryan deGraffenreid is a lobbyist representing Palace Entertainment, which operates a bingo parlor in Greene County. He told the committee that the parlors just wanted to “be able to keep doing what we’re doing,”
“It’s our contention this bill is picking winners and losers again,” he said, as reported by The Advertiser. “We ask this body and the entire legislature, [to] consider letting the market dictate who survives down there [in Greene County].”
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