Alabama Casino Advocates Intensify Campaign, Republicans Show Little Interest
A new year means a new legislative undertaking in Alabama to bring commercial casino gambling to the southern state. But the Republican-controlled legislature stands in the way.
The Alabama Track Owners Association, which owns four greyhound racetracks, and the Poarch Band of Creek Indians have teamed up for the 2022 campaign. The goal is to convince lawmakers to finally allow voters to decide whether to authorize commercial casinos with slot machines, table games, and possibly sports betting.
The Poarch Creek Indians are the only federally recognized tribe in Alabama. The state has refused to engage in a Class III gaming compact with the tribe, therefore blocking its three Wind Creek casinos from offering slots and tables. As a result, Wind Creek Atmore, Montgomery, and Wetumpka only house Class II, bingo-based gaming machines.
The Alabama Track Owners Association, through its nonprofit political action group “Alabama4Gaming,” this week unveiled a 30-second television ad that promotes the potential benefits of legalizing full-scale casinos. The group highlights the state approving $700 million in incentives in 2020 to bring a Toyota-Mazda manufacturing plant and some 4,000 new jobs to Huntsville.
Legislators have an opportunity to generate $700 million a year and create 12,000 jobs without spending any tax dollars,” the ad contends. “The equivalent of three auto manufacturing plants if they just let us vote on a gaming and lottery bill.”
The Alabama Constitution prohibits all forms of commercial gambling. To amend the state’s legal framework, a bill must first pass the state legislature with three-fifths majority support. The matter would then go before the people by way of a ballot referendum, where only a simple majority is needed for approval.
State Sen. Greg Albritton (R-Baldwin) says he will again introduce a commercial gaming bill during the 2022 session, which begins next Tuesday, January 11. The session is slated to run through April 25.
Albritton has been a stalwart supporter of expanding gambling in Alabama. He says his 2022 plan will mimic years prior.
Along with the three Wind Creek tribal casinos being allowed to become commercial entities with slots and tables, previous gaming legislation sought to allow the four greyhound tracks to pursue casino licenses. Those facilities are Birmingham Race Course, Greenetrack Bingo & Racing, Mobile Greyhound Park, and VictoryLand.
While Albritton is a Republican, his party colleagues in Montgomery are nowhere near as enthusiastic about casinos. The GOP has strong control of both the Alabama House and Senate. If Republicans rallied around casinos, the party has adequate power to legalize such gambling, as the GOP controls more than a two-thirds majority in both chambers.
The odds of that happening, however, are long.
The House Republican caucus unveiled its 2022 legislative priorities this week, and casino gambling was nowhere to be found. House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-DeKalb) opined that there simply isn’t enough support among the party to pursue gaming.
I think at the end of the day, there’s just too many unanswered questions,” Ledbetter said.
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