February 11, 2021
Alabama Senator Del Marsh is expecting lawmakers to speak in the Senate today (Feb.11) on his gambling bill.
Senate Bill 214 proposed by the Anniston Republican Senator on Feb. 9, was sent to the Senate Tourism Committee on Feb. 10. Marsh heads that committee, where it was passed unanimously 11-0 in favor of hearing the bill.
The bill proposes a broad expansion of gambling in the state.
“We're not talking about a simple 'paper lottery', but rather a widespread game of electronic gaming (slot machines and possibly online gambling 'in the palm of your hand'), full-fledged casinos across the state, and a contract with the Poarch Creek Indians who own it would allow them to add a casino in northeast Alabama near Huntsville and Chattanooga, Tennessee, ”said Joe Godfrey, executive director of the Alabama Citizens Action Program.
Lottery and casinos
The bill provides for the creation of a lottery and five new casinos. Four of the casinos would be located on the existing greyhound tracks in Alabama: the Birmingham Race Course, VictoryLand in Macon County, Greentrack in Greene County, and Mobile Greyhound Park.
The Poarch Band of Creek Indians would operate the fifth location in Counties Jackson or DeKalb in northeast Alabama. The band already operates casinos in Atmore, Montgomery and Wetumpka (under federal law).
SB214 would require an amendment to the Alabama Constitution that would have to be approved by voters.
The 35-page bill also seeks a contract between the state of Alabama and the Poarch Band. Governor Kay Ivey has repeatedly stated that she will not negotiate a contract until voters approve the expansion of gambling.
Proposed revenue distribution
According to the provisions set out in the bill, casinos are allowed to offer a wide range of games – blackjack, roulette and slots – as well as bingo and sports betting on site. A 20% tax rate and royalties would be required from the casinos. These revenues would be distributed as follows:
- 20% to the Alabama Gaming Commission for expenses (all remaining costs are passed on to lawmakers)
- 75% to the General Fund of the State
- 3% on county commissions where casinos are located
- 2% for cities with a casino (if the casino is not in a city, this 2% also goes to the County Commission).
The net income from the lottery would support college scholarships, including those for professional training at community colleges as well as students at four-year colleges entering teaching in areas of high demand (science and math).
A seven-member Alabama Gaming Commission is to be set up to regulate all forms of gambling.
Income from license fees would be collected in a gaming trust fund. The current plan for spending these funds is to support the general fund. Expanding access to high-speed broadband internet in rural areas; Funding of rural health services, including mental health services; and infrastructure improvements in areas without a casino.
In 1999, Alabama voters turned down a lottery proposed by Governor Don Siegelman.
"I think the people of the state are ready and willing to address this issue," Marsh told reporters at the State House on Feb. 9.
Marsh has no plans to move a vote on the Gambling Act until lawmakers return from their upcoming 10-day hiatus. He hopes his colleagues will use the break to discuss the bill with their constituents.
Effect on Alabamians
Godfrey and others say the bill will hurt Alabamians.
"Legislators who are advocating this bill argue that they 'only want to allow the people of Alabama to vote on gambling,' but what they really mean is that it will support the big lottery management companies, casino operators and the Tribal game want bosses to buy people's votes, ”said Godfrey.
Churches that oppose gambling would have to choose between spending money to protest gambling or doing service, Godfrey said. "Churches will also lose if asked to help families who have lost everything they have … through government-sanctioned and government-sponsored gambling," he added.
ALCAP and the Alabama Policy Institute added SB214 to create watch lists for their supporters. In a press release from API, the organization said that "budgeting based on gambling and lottery revenues is poor financial policy".
API, a non-profit, impartial organization that advocates free markets, limited government, and strong families, proposed five changes to the bill:
- Legislation must include ratification by Alabama residents.
- Game donations must be prohibited from donating to campaigns and PACs in all state and local races, including those for mayor, city council, district commission, district attorney, etc.
- Public benefits such as EBT cards must be excluded from use in gambling establishments.
- A significant portion of the lottery proceeds should be used to support K-12 school election programs.
- Since the lottery and gambling generate higher revenue for the state, lawmakers should lower taxes elsewhere. We strongly recommend removing the food tax as a reasonable compensation.
API promised to vote no until these suggestions were added.
Further legislative updates:
– The two versions of the Act on Compassion and Protection of Vulnerable Children (House Bill 1 and Senate Bill 10) were on committee on February 10th. HB1 had a public hearing on the Judiciary Committee, and Godfrey is awaiting a legislative vote after their hiatus. SB10 was elected from the Health Committee on February 10th. The bills prohibit sex reassignment therapy for minors and the withholding of relevant information from parents. ALCAP supports both invoices.
– A medical marijuana bill awaits debate in the Alabama Senate. Click here to learn more about billing.
—Senate Bill 138 and House Bill 229, bills that would allow alcoholic beverages to be shipped direct to Alabama, were passed by their respective committees (Senate Tourism Committee and House Justice Committee) on February 10th.
House Act 246 would allow local education authorities to offer yoga to students from kindergarten through 12th grade, which is currently illegal. Clete Hux, executive director of the Apologetics Resource Center in Birmingham, Alabama, said the effort is really a "Trojan horse" to establish the Hindu religion in public schools. "We don't understand many worldviews outside of our own," Hux said in an interview with Godfrey. (You can find TAB talks in December about the yoga bill at tabonline.org/yoga.)
Click here to download a list of contact information for lawmakers in Alabama.