Alabama Gambling Legislation in Limbo After Falling Short by One Vote

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The Alabama State Capitol stands on May 15, 2019 in Montgomery, Alabama. Julie Bennett/Getty Images/AFP

There’s a reason why you often hear people say that every vote counts during an election. Well, the phrase rang true in Alabama as lawmakers discussed, and then voted on the state’s gambling bills.

The Alabama House of Representatives passed the package of gambling legislation, but it hit a snag in the Senate. With a 20-15 vote, HB151 narrowly failed to pass. 

The issue at hand was an August 20 special election where voters could decide whether to add a lottery and limited electronic casino gambling into the Alabama State Constitution. Since HB151 was a constitutional amendment, it needed 21 votes for passage, equivalent to three-fifths support from the 35-member Senate.

What Happens Now?

It’s unclear if the legislation has a chance because negotiating the differences could be difficult. It can’t be changed or amended at this point, and it’s too late in the session for substitute legislation. So it comes down to flipping one vote. 

There are still a few days left in the session,  so there’s some time to figure it out. Whether it will be enough to flip a single vote is anyone’s guess

“The Senate will continue to do exactly what we do,” Senate President Pro Tem Greg Reed, said. “Which is work, debate, discuss.” 

What Does The Overall Gambling Package Include?

The proposed gambling package includes a lottery specifically designed to fund education in Alabama. If approved, this would be the first time in 25 years that Alabama has considered creating a paper lottery.

The legislation also authorizes up to seven casinos within the state. These casinos would be located at existing dog tracks and bingo halls. However, they would be prohibited from offering traditional table games that involve cards, dice, or dealers. Instead, they would focus on slot machines and other forms of electronic gaming.

 In addition to the seven casinos, there are three full-scale casinos planned for tribal lands. These casinos would be operated by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians and would be located in Atmore, Wetumpka, and Montgomery.

Notably, sports betting was not included in the legislation.

If the bill is approved, Alabama voters will have the opportunity to decide whether to establish a state lottery. The majority of the lottery proceeds would be allocated toward education. Alabama is currently one of only five states without a lottery.

Tribe Opposed the Bill’s Setup

The proposed bill faced opposition from the Poarch Creeks. 

While the legislation granted the tribe an advantage over traditional casinos by allowing them to operate full casinos with table games, it also leveled the playing field somewhat by permitting the seven locations (including dog tracks and casinos in Lowndes, Houston, and Greene counties) to offer the aforementioned electronic games. However, the bill also restricted the Poarch Creeks from expanding beyond their existing trust lands, which could pose an unnecessary obstacle for future gaming negotiations.

Despite all of this, lawmakers thought they had at least 21 votes to get the amendment in front of voters, but that ultimately did not happen.

We’ll watch to see where the discussion goes from here and if someone opts to change their mind the next time it is put to a vote.