The 2024 Alabama legislative session is less than two weeks away, and as previously reported, a gambling bill backed by key lawmakers will be considered in the Alabama House.
Since the previous report, 1819 News has received feedback from lawmakers in both the Alabama House and Senate to discuss how they feel about the proposed legislation. Many lawmakers who may be on the fence about gambling have said this year's gambling bill is more palatable than those in years past.
According to lawmakers who spoke to 1819 News, they 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. In addition, all 18 of the controversial Constitutional Amendments currently in place will be repealed.
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 casino and sportsbook revenues would benefit the state's general fund budget.
While speaking to lawmakers who have said they will not support the bill in any form, they believe that if gambling were legalized in Alabama, it would bring in more white-collar crime, the potential for corruption or the lawmaker simply feels that their district does not support gambling. Others had promised their constituents during their previous elections that they would not support gambling legislation.
One lawmaker commented, "I have been openly a no-vote for over 20 years and will continue to be."
Some lawmakers believe that the lottery bill should be separate legislation from the casino and sports gambling portions. Others are willing to accept a comprehensive package but feel that certain details will need to change and want more control over how the revenue is spent.
Those changes mentioned by lawmakers who are on the fence but open to a comprehensive gambling bill have varied. While some want more for education, others want more for the general fund. Another issue some Republican lawmakers have brought up is that if the bill does pass, then putting the constitutional amendment on the November general election ballot could sway the outcome of that election in favor of the Democratic nominee.
Additionally, lawmakers who said they are OK with the current revenue breakdown between the education and general funds are split between those wanting earmarks for the revenue and others who do not wish to have any earmarks. The earmarks lawmakers have mentioned depend on the individual lawmakers, the location of their district, and how they can best benefit their constituents. The most mentioned are roads and bridges, a college fund for students to attend in-state universities or trade schools, infrastructure for K-12 schools, and more funding for local items.
According to lawmakers and statehouse insiders that 1819 News spoke to, there will be multiple hurdles in the House to get to the required 60% majority, but the bill is in a better position in that chamber.
However, if the bill makes it to the Alabama Senate, they believe it will have its largest hurdle there, and finding the required 60% (21 votes) to pass the constitutional amendment will become more difficult.
If the constitutional amendment does pass, it will go to the voters of Alabama to decide. The last time gaming legislation was on the ballot in Alabama was in 1999, and it failed 54% to 46%, with nearly a 50% turnout of registered voters participating in the vote.
While few lawmakers would come out and say that, at this point, they will agree to support the legislation, those on the fence have said that they will decide once the bill is released and what, if any, changes are made before the vote.
The 2024 Alabama legislative session will begin on February 6.
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