The Alabama Legislature should increase penalties on illegal gambling activities from the misdemeanor level to a felony, according to Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall.
Possible legislation expanding and regulating gambling in Alabama has been discussed for months and is expected to be discussed in the House next session.
However, Marshall said during a recent interview on the Alabama Farmers Federation's "Alabama AgCast" that the only change he'd support to Alabama's gambling laws was increasing the criminal penalties for engaging in illegal gambling activities.
"I think the law is clear and in fact do not urge a change," Marshall said. "To the extent that we were looking as a way of enhancing enforcement and maybe to some extent creating a deterrence, you know, the only thing I think we look at in the law is maybe do we need to make sure we enhance the punishment. One of the problems frankly is the fact that we've continued to allow gambling to be a misdemeanor. To some extent, we've given certain public officials an excuse to somehow or another either ignore or diminish their role in the enforcement of this and so if the legislature wants an opportunity to make a difference on the enforcement side, elevate the punishment. Create a deterrent for those who would engage in this behavior and I think we would see a difference."
Marshall also said he opposed the state's creation of a new gaming commission to oversee, enforce and regulate gambling activity in Alabama. Such a commission has been mentioned by some proponents of passing comprehensive gambling legislation in 2024.
House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter said in September that without a regulatory framework in place, illegal gambling activity would continue to grow and could result in something akin to organized crime.
"But the problem with it is now, where we're at today is if we don't do something about it and regulate it, then all we are doing is enabling illegal gambling," Ledbetter said. "And it has gotten so rampant until we do something about it, it is a little scary because it's almost an organization that's going to be — an illegal organization, like a crime organization that is running these operations. Without the true regulations, without a commission to try to support it and try to stop them, it's going to continue to grow. And listen, let's be honest — there is more out there than what the Attorney General can address. I do think with regulations, there has got to be an enforcement piece with that."
However, Marshall said he doesn't think the gaming commission option is a good idea.
"I don't think it's a solution at all," Marshall said. "The opportunity to enforce the law exists now and to the extent that you have a gaming commission in place, what's to say that those same public officials that had been ignoring the law before are going to somehow or another change their tune and enforce the laws against illegal activity? The reality is if we passed a bill tomorrow there's still going to be those that try to engage in illegal activity. If the idea is to somehow or another create a commission that's not accountable to the people, that don't have the ability to answer to anybody other than themselves, I don't think that number one is good government, and number two I don't see that as a solution to a problem that we can fix in a very different way to allow for those that are already appointed or elected in these roles to in fact do their job. I haven't seen details so I don't know exactly what they're doing, but somebody has got to prosecute these cases. To have an unaffiliated law enforcement agency trying to work statewide, I've not seen a model that makes a lot of sense. If the concern is we need to stop the illegal activity, then let's do the things I talked about earlier. I do think that the commission discussion is really more of a way of hiding what is the true incentive which is: 'We want to pass gambling laws and we want to enhance the ability to gamble in the state of Alabama.' If that's the goal then be transparent about it, say that's what you want to do. Don't use the commission as the vehicle to in fact accomplish that."
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