Alabama Lottery and Casino Bills Head to Legislative Conference Committee

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Legislation in Alabama seeking to establish a state-run lottery and Las Vegas-style casino gambling with slot machines, table games, and possibly sports betting is formally set for a conference committee.

It’s been a long road to get here, but Alabama lawmakers might soon authorize a lottery, tribal and commercial casinos, and sports betting. A legislative conference committee in the Montgomery capital is trying to iron out differences between the two chambers on the gaming topic. (Image: Southern Living)

Next week, leaders of the state Senate and House of Representatives will appoint three members each to the conference committee. The goal of the assembly will be to iron out differences in the gaming bills the two chambers passed this legislative year.

I think we have to identify what that middle ground is first because it’s such a distance between the two,” said Rep. Chris Blackshear (R-Lee).

Blackshear was the primary sponsor of the original House gaming package, House Bills 151 and 152. One piece of the legislation would expand gambling in the Cotton State while the other establishes the Alabama Gaming Commission to regulate the industry.

“They’re not even close bookends. So, we’ve got to first establish what that middle ground looks like and then have those conversations,” Blackshear explained.

Alabama is one of only four states that doesn’t have a lottery, commercial casinos, or sports betting. The others are Alaska, Hawaii, and Utah.

Considerable Differences

Alabama House lawmakers sent the Senate a gaming package in February that would authorize a lottery, up to six commercial casinos, and allow the state’s lone federally recognized tribe, the Poach Band of Creek Indians, to transition their electronic bingo resorts to Las Vegas-style casinos with slot machines and live dealer table games. The House versions of HB 151/152 additionally call for retail and online sports betting.

The Poach Indians operate Class I and II tribal casinos in Atmore, Montgomery, and Wetumpka. The House gaming bills would also provide the tribe with the opportunity to explore a fourth casino on nonsovereign land in the northern part of the state.

The Senate didn’t go for the House gaming plan and made considerable amendments to the scheme before passing the measures back to the lower chamber.

The Senate voted to remove sports wagering and the commercial casino component. The amended bills allow for the Poach Indians to negotiate a Class III gaming compact with the governor, as the House version did, but prevents a fourth casino.

The Senate maintained the lottery creation and added slot-like historical horse racing (HHR) machines at the state’s four shuttered dog racetracks. The Senate package additionally allows for three additional pari-mutuel wagering locations to open, which could also house HHR.

Voters Have Final Say

Since the gaming bills seek to initiate a ballot referendum placed before voters in November, each bill needed three-fifths support in each chamber. Should the conference committee come to a compromise, the same majority support will be required before the gaming questions can go to the polls.

If one thing has been made clear throughout this process, it’s that the people of Alabama want and deserve an opportunity to vote on this issue,” said House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville). “People want to vote. That’s what our polling shows.”

If the gaming bills do go before voters, only a simple majority of the vote is needed to amend the Alabama Constitution to permit the proposed gaming.

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