MONTGOMERY — Alabama legislators should pass a constitutional amendment allowing for expanded legalized gambling to appear on the ballot in November, according to Gov. Kay Ivey.

Specific details on the House’s gambling proposal have been scarce so far, but legislators told 1819 News in January their proposal includes new legalized casino gambling, a state lottery, sports betting and the creation of an Alabama Gaming Commission.

Ivey said in her annual State of the State address on Tuesday the time was right for voters to consider the issue again.

“This year, when Alabamians make their way to the ballot box, I hope they will be voting on another issue: Gaming," Ivey said. "I believe the current proposal being contemplated by the Legislature is good for Alabama, and I will be carefully watching it move through the process. It will crack down on illegal gambling, and it will responsibly regulate limited forms of legal gaming, including a statewide lottery. Thank you to Speaker Ledbetter and his leadership team for their hard work on this. Now is the time for Alabama voters to have another say on this issue."

Members of the House Gaming Study Group, including State Reps. Andy Whitt (R-Madison), Chris Blackshear (R-Phenix City), Sam Jones (D-Mobile) and others plan to host a press conference at the State House on Wednesday afternoon to discuss their proposal.  

Blackshear told 1819 News after Ivey’s speech on Tuesday, “I think the Governor mentioned it’s an issue that’s gone a long time unaddressed in this state.” 

“We do have an issue. No matter what your stance is on gaming in the state, it’s existing. It’s unregulated. It’s not controlled, nor is it taxed. I think that’s something you’ll see in the legislation as the session progresses that we’ve looked to tackle all three of those areas,” Blackshear continued. “This has truly been an in house drafted piece of legislation. We’ve gone off, Rep. Whitt and others that led our committee that was charged to do that by the Speaker, we actually went around the state and put boots on the ground ourselves. We weren’t taking somebody else’s wording for it. The investigative work that was done. The leg work that was done and the research that was put into this bill to craft this piece of legislation was truly done by our own research and investigation ourselves. Now, there’s no perfect legislation especially if you’re talking about a topic like gaming but I think we’ve got a piece of legislation that we can be proud of to present to our colleagues.”

The proposal is opposed by the Alabama Policy Institute, Alabama Farmers Federation, and Alabama Citizens Action Program (ALCAP).

Greg Davis, ALCAP President, said in a recent blog post, “Pro-gambling interests are targeting Alabama as an untapped market, seeking profits from potential Alabamian 'losers' (of their own money).” 

“We support all attempts to enforce Alabama’s current laws concerning gambling, but do not see the now-common battle cry for “regulation” as the answer. Regulation is a code word for state-sponsored legalization. No American jurisdiction has EVER documented a decline in illegal gambling after states began sponsoring gambling, regardless whether it’s lotteries, casinos, or internet gambling,” Davis added. “Legalization only removes the deterrence. When legislators and gambling operators call for “regulation,” what they really mean is the government favoring certain counties or cities and granting monopolies and awarding regulatory advantages to favored firms. In Alabama, among these favored firms are likely to be the same ones who have been breaking Alabama’s laws for years. Imagine rewarding the very people who have flaunted our laws and caused us to have a so-called illegal gambling public safety crisis.”

House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels (D-Huntsville) told reporters on Tuesday that House Democrats were “keeping an open mind” about the issue.

“I’m certain that there will be a bill dropped very soon. There will be a lot of conversations. There are a couple outside groups that have kind of been on the sidelines saying that they’re not happy right now with where we are right now on the gaming legislation,” Daniels said. “Therefore, you have to look at all of those dynamics. It would probably be good if we dealt with this in a special session within the general of the regular session so that we could isolate the issue and focus on it. There are other distractions of red meat bills being introduced that will likely have an impact on the mood of the House of Representatives.”

Craig Monger and Jeff Poor contributed to this story.

To connect with the author of this story or to comment, email [email protected].

Don't miss out! Subscribe to our newsletter and get our top stories every weekday morning.