As the Alabama Legislature prepares to gavel in on February 6, work on new comprehensive gaming legislation has already begun.

According to officials who spoke to 1819 News, lawmakers plan to introduce a bill that will include Class III casino gaming, a state lottery, sportsbook gaming and the creation of an Alabama Gaming Commission.

The taxes and fees from this bill would be split between the Education Budget and General Fund Budget. Lottery funds would be directed to the education budget, and the Class III and sportsbook revenues would benefit the state's General Fund Budget.

According to Gov. Kay Ivey's 2020 Study Group on Gambling Policy Report, gambling could produce "as much as" $710 million annually in revenue for the state. The report estimated a lottery could generate $200-300 million, casino gaming $300-400 million and sports betting $10 million.

Alabama's constitution currently prohibits gambling. However, 18 constitutional amendments allow certain forms of gaming in certain portions of the state. Those amendments have caused a series of controversies, and depending on which official you speak to, the answer to their legality changes.

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Officials speaking to 1819 on the condition of anonymity said the bill to be introduced in the House this year would repeal all 18 constitutional amendments.

The legislation will also attempt to crack down on illegal gaming in Alabama, taking it from a misdemeanor and increasing it to a felony with substantial financial penalties. Penalties will also increase for multiple offenses.

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To replace the constitutional amendments, the bill will allow Class III gaming in certain areas of the state with an open-bidding process.

The areas would include locations operated by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians on their federally recognized tribal lands, Birmingham, Macon County, Greene County, Lowndes County, Houston County, Mobile County and an undetermined county in Northeast Alabama.

Before bidding for locations within these areas, the local governments may either authorize gaming in their city/county by a local resolution or allow the people to vote to allow for gaming in their community.

Once a bid has been approved, a "Phase 1" clause will require a specific time frame for construction to begin with a minimum investment.

Each Class III gaming operation licensed by the commission may also apply for one sports gaming license. All other sports gaming licenses not associated with a Class III gaming establishment will be issued via the commission. Online sports betting will be allowed. However, no other types of gaming will be allowed online.

Officials emphasized that this bill would not legalize gambling in Alabama if it passed the legislature. On the contrary, it would substantially reduce the number of gambling establishments in the state due to the crackdown on illegal gaming.

As a constitutional amendment, if the bill passes the legislature with the required three-fifths majority in both chambers, voters would then get to decide via a ballot measure, most likely during the November general election.

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