Senate Committee Passes Scaled-Back Gambling Plan

Credits: Oregon Live

An Alabama Senate committee made significant changes on Tuesday to proposed legislation for gambling options and venues, departing from what the House had previously approved.

Senator Greg Albritton, the bill’s sponsor, indicated that the alterations were necessary to secure the required GOP support for passage in the Senate.

The Senate floor vote on the revised legislation, which includes House Bill 151 and House Bill 152, could occur as early as today or Thursday. A constitutional amendment accompanying the bills would require a minimum of 21 affirmative votes from the 35 senators.

Unlike the House’s previous approval, the new versions of the bills do not permit sports and online gambling. However, they do allow for a potential compact with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians that could result in expanded casino-style gambling at its three current facilities.

Senate Committee (Credits: The Courier-Journal)

These would be the only table games allowed in the state. Existing dog tracks could maintain parimutuel operations and simulcasts, but those offering electronic bingo, which simulates slot machines, would need to eliminate them.

According to Albritton, slot-like machines must operate on simulated dog or horse races, not bingo, to create a level playing field for all.

Senator Rodger Smitherman pointed out in committee that if Poarch Creek’s three sites, which currently only offer electronic games, were to include table games, they would likely attract more visitors than the pari-mutuel sites.

While several senators expressed support for a lottery bill, they were less enthusiastic about the other gambling options in the original bill. Senator Randy Price highlighted the loss of revenue due to residents buying lottery tickets in neighboring states, emphasizing the need for Alabama to retain this revenue.

Although this revised version may be acceptable to the Senate, it would require House approval of the changes. Representative Andy Whitt, who helped guide the bill through the House, stated on Tuesday night that he had not yet reviewed the new bills.

Comments from House leadership and Governor Kay Ivey, who has advocated for the House’s version, were unavailable at the time. The changes in the new bills would result in significantly less revenue for the state than the original proposal.

The original plan, which would have allowed up to 10 casinos with table games, a lottery, and sports betting, was estimated to generate between $635 million and $913 million annually for the state. Albritton stated that the new proposal estimates around $350 million annually.

Like the House version, this legislation would undo previous local constitutional amendments that allowed a patchwork of gambling across the state.

Another notable change is the timing of when Alabamians could vote on the measure. While the original proposal aimed for the general election on November 5th, the substitutes propose a special election in September. This change was made due to concerns that the gaming proposal could impact races on the November ballot.

Additionally, the new bill removes most suggested uses for state revenue from the lottery and gambling. It stipulates that until March 30, 2029, all proceeds would go to the state’s General Fund, which would be split evenly between education and roads and bridges.

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