Conference Committee To Review Alabama’s Lottery and Casino Legislation

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A view of the state capitol on March 6, 2015 in Montgomery, Alabama. AFP Photo/Brendan Smialowski

The battle over gambling in Alabama continues and the future for the online sportsbooks industry is still uncertain.

Diverging Visions

The Alabama House of Representatives did not agree with the Senate’s changes to the lottery and gambling legislation. They couldn’t see eye to eye on whether to permit sports betting and multiple casinos in the state.

The Representatives decided to forward the bill to a conference committee. This was the first move on the bill, which had been on hold since the Alabama Senate reduced a comprehensive plan passed by the House. The original plan would have permitted a lottery, sports betting and up to 10 casinos with table games. However, the Senate’s version wouldn’t allow sports betting or casinos outside of tribal land.

The Alabama Senate is expected to appoint a conference committee when members return to Montgomery next week.

Optimism Replaced with Disappointment

Sen. Greg Albritton, who carried the legislation in the Senate, expressed that his initial optimism for reaching a compromise has faded. He noted that certain senators have adopted inflexible positions against sports betting and the allowance of casinos.

Albritton emphasized that there is ample room for compromise and opportunity. However, he acknowledged that the main obstacle is overcoming entrenched views.

Representative Chris Blackshear, the sponsor from the House, expressed disappointment over the Senate’s pared-down version, which he believes could lead to revenue losses amounting to hundreds of millions. Despite his optimism for a resolution, Blackshear recognized the substantial differences between the proposals of the two chambers.

There’s Still a Lot of Money on the Table

People who support the bill believe it could bring in an extra $1.2 billion each year. The House wanted to use lottery money for education, including college scholarships. They also wanted to use money from casinos and sports betting for other things, like mental health programs and a rural health care program similar to Medicaid. However, the final decision on how to spend the money would be up to the Legislature.

In March, the Senate couldn’t agree on the gaming package, so it didn’t move forward. The Senate made big changes to the bill. They removed sports betting and replaced casino gambling with betting on historic horse races.

The revised bill still included the lottery and compact, but it required the money to be divided equally among education, the General Fund and roads and bridges. The Senate removed the rural health care program. They expect their version of the bill to bring in $350 million each year.

Where Does the Alabama Gambling Bill Go From Here?

Blackshear told the Associated Press, “The first step is to identify the middle ground because the current proposals are far apart – they’re not even comparable. Once we establish what this middle ground is, we can then proceed with the discussions.

He pointed out the significant disparity between the House and Senate versions, likening them to distant bookends. He asserted the need to first identify this middle ground due to the vast differences.

He reaffirmed his commitment to a comprehensive approach to the issue, asserting that it’s the only way to fully address it. Despite the House having adopted this approach, he expressed cautious optimism about reaching a similar compromise.

We’ll just have to wait and see.