Negotiations on the much-debated gambling legislation are expected to resume this week after the Alabama Legislature gavels back in after a week-long hiatus.

Since the beginning of the 2024 legislative session, gambling has been at the center stage of debate amongst lawmakers, a week-long delay over IVF notwithstanding.

The debate involves two bills that would create comprehensive gaming in Alabama.  

House Bill 151 (HB151) would repeal all constitutional amendments allowing gambling in certain parts of the state and remove the state's constitutional gambling prohibition. The other, House Bill 152 (HB152), initially authorized a series of provisions legalizing casino gaming in specific locations, a statewide lottery, and online sports betting. Both Bills are sponsored by State Rep. Chris Blackshear (R-Phenix City) in the House.

The House passed both bills in February with a comfortable margin.

After weeks of deliberation, the Senate also passed both bills on March 8, this time with amendments, significantly changing the original legislation.

The substitute amendments under the Senate plan include a statewide lottery and a requirement that the governor negotiate a gambling compact with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians (PCI). Sports betting, online gambling or other non-PCI new casinos aren't included in the Senate's amendment like the House's version. The constitutional amendment would be voted on in the Senate plan on September 10 in a special election.

The Senate's revised constitutional amendment also includes authorizing pari-mutuel wagering, including historical horse racing at the racetracks in Greene, Jefferson, Macon, Mobile, an additional location in Greene County, at the existing bingo halls in Houston County, and the town of White Hall in Lowndes County.

The amended Senate bills have been sitting in the House basket awaiting action for nearly a month. After two off-weeks for lawmakers' Spring Break, the debate is expected to pick back up with little to no indication of how things will play out.

The House has three options: vote to concur on the Senate substitutes, vote to non-concur and go to a conference committee in which members from both houses attempt to compromise, or leave the bills in the basket to die.

Blackshear told 1819 News that lawmakers didn't discuss the legislation during Spring Break, and negotiations will begin as the new week begins.

"We're meeting again this week," Blackshear said. "The last time we met was the Thursday we adjourned before Spring Break, and we're supposed to be picking up those conversations this week."

"We just wanted to let people enjoy their break. We've got budgets and a bunch of important things coming up, but we're going to take [gambling] up this week and start trying to get some direction."

Lawmakers are mum on what compromises are expected and what either house could live with. The substituted Senate bill only passed with one vote to spare above the 60 percent threshold for constitutional amendments.

Even if both houses can agree to some compromise, Gov. Kay Ivey will still have to sign the enabling legislation.

Ivey expressed excitement after the House passed the gambling bills, saying, "[i]n their current form, these bills will continue to have my support." After the Senate heavily amended the bills, Ivey said she would be "thoroughly reviewing" the legislation.

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