MONTGOMERY — Tuesday was all about gambling at the Alabama State House, as lawmakers and advocates spent time either opposing or supporting the proposed legislation currently being debated by legislators.

State Rep. Chris Blackshear (R-Phenix City), who is sponsoring the two bills needed to establish gambling, presented both before a packed committee meeting on Tuesday. One bill will repeal all constitutional amendments allowing gambling in certain parts of the state and remove the state’s constitutional gambling prohibition. The other authorizes a series of provisions legalizing casino gaming in specific locations, a statewide lottery and online sports betting.

After the public hearing, committee chair State Rep. Andy Whitt (R-Harvest) announced the vote to advance the bills would occur on Wednesday.

Before the bills had a public hearing in the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee, a group of sundry anti-gambling interests gathered in the adjacent room one hour before to opine on the perceived perils of gaming.

Representatives from the Alabama Policy Institute, Alabama Farmers Federation (ALFA), Alabama Citizens Action Program (ALCAP), Alabama Baptist Convention and Eagle Forum of Alabama attended the meeting to oppose the bill. State Rep. Jim Carns (R-Vestavia Hills) also spoke out against it.

Addressing addiction, human trafficking, crime and more, the speakers spoke at length on the perceived adverse effects gambling has on individuals and communities. Two men who spoke at both meetings, one of whom is now a pastor, detailed their personal struggle with gambling addiction and friends who took their own life after battling compulsive gambling.

During the Committee meeting, several Alabama familiars spoke before a packed crowd.

Some gave a less-than-glowing endorsement of gambling but approved of the additional funding the bills would bring to their industry or associations.

Holly McCorkle, the Executive Director of the Alabama Council for Behavioral Healthcare, spoke in favor, saying the legislation would give “another revenue stream” to mental healthcare in the state. Her sentiments were shared by representatives from multiple veterans associations, as well as Boone Kinard with the Alabama Community College System, all approving the influx of funding proposed in the legislation.

Preston Roberts, with the Alabama Farmers Federation (ALFA), spoke in opposition to the bill, saying, “Gambling is bad public policy that weakens communities, targets the vulnerable, and fuels crime."

SEE: 'I just find it a little hypocritical': State Rep. Whitt questions ALFA Vegas trip during committee hearing on gambling bill

“There are no limitations in this bill on how or where gambling is marketed, promoted or advertised,” Roberts said. “Today, Alabama has current laws against marketing harmful products like tobacco and alcohol to minors, and in some circumstances, prevents advertising within certain distances from schools. Yet, under this bill, if Draft Kings wanted to sponsor my seven-year-old’s little league baseball team, they would be allowed to do so.”

“The legislation does not go near far enough to protect your constituents, including children, from the predatory actions of gambling operators,” he continued.

Alabama State Treasurer Young Boozer, who sat on Gov. Kay Ivey’s study group on gaming policy, spoke in support of the legislation. Boozer said the group’s study report delivered to Ivey in 2020 shows that revenues and benefits from the bill lead him to believe a comprehensive gambling plan will function and benefit the state.

“My summary of the study and of this bill is [that] gaming will work in Alabama, and it will be worth it,” Boozer said.

Notably, Robert McGhee, the Tribal Council Vice Chairman for the Poarch Band of Creek Indians (PCI) showed up in opposition to the bills. The current legislation restricts licensing to specific counties in the state, including three already-existing locations operated by PCI on their federal tribal lands.

The governor will be authorized to enter into a negotiated agreement, also called a compact, with the PCI for a location rumored to be in Northeast Alabama.

According to McGhee, Blackshear produced estimates that PCI gaming facilities would eventually generate $300 million in revenue, approximately 92% of all casino revenue in the state. McGhee said the provisions given to PCI in the bill package do not allow sufficient profit increase for PCI to meet those numbers, which include allowing gaming on unspecified non-federal lands.

Blackshear/McGhee. Alabama News
Tribal Council Vice Chairman Robert McGhee opposes gambling legislation as the bills' sponsor watches on. Photo: Craig Monger.

After the meeting, committee member State Rep. Allen Treadaway (R-Morris) said three former Alabama governors were in attendance, saying he “would like to hear their perspective on this.”

Whitt declined the suggestion since none had signed up to speak, and he was not notified of their intention.

Former Democratic Governors Jim Folsom and Don Siegelman were observed at the meeting, and it was rumored they were both opposed to the legislation. However, it is unknown what third former governor Treadway was referencing.

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