A controversial gambling bill that would close a number of casinos, while giving other gambling magnates state blessing, received a favorable report from the Senate Tourism Committee on Tuesday.

Senate Bills 293 (SB 293) and 294 (SB294) are a proposed constitutional amendment and its accompanying enabling legislation. Both are sponsored by State Sen. Greg Albritton (R-Atmore).

SB293 is the constitutional amendment.

“This came from last year’s work that we did, predominantly, as well as other efforts to get a grasp on this issue,” Albritton said. “It provides for a lottery in Alabama.

“It provides for and legalizes the lottery. It requires that Alabama and PCI (Poarch Creek Band of Indians) enter into a compact. PCI has three casinos on sovereign property similar to reservations out west where the state does not have authority,” Albritton said.

PCI operates electronic bingo establishments in Wetumpka, Montgomery, and Atmore under the auspices of the Indian Gaming Act, which is regulated by the Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs.

“This amendment would require that the state enter into a compact with the Indians so Alabama would get a share of the revenues,” Albritton said.

Critics of the Albritton bill said it would expand gambling in Alabama, a charge that Albritton denied.

“The only expansion of gaming in either of these two bills is the lottery,” Albritton said. “It limits the number of casinos in the state to five.” 

Joe Godfrey, who heads the Alabama Citizens Action Program, disagreed with Albritton’s assertion.

Godfrey said that in addition to the four approved casinos at Victoryland, the Birmingham Race Course, Greenetrack, and the Mobile Greyhound Park it formalizes the three existing Indian casinos, and authorizes “satellite” casinos in Houston and Lowndes Counties. It also authorizes the construction of a new casino in Jackson or Dekalb County operated by PCI.

Everyone who spoke at the public hearing spoke in opposition to the bill. While Godfrey and the Alabama Policy Institute both oppose gambling for social and policy reasons, numerous gaming facilities that were either left out of this bill and would have to close, as well as representatives of the two satellite casinos who objected to being limited by the bill, also spoke in opposition to the bill which they said “picks winners and losers.”

The bill sets up an Alabama Gaming Commission which would also have authority over online fantasy gaming which the legislature has already allowed to operate in the state. It would also legalize sports betting.

Godfrey warned that that is the most addictive form of gambling and that sports betting addiction greatly increases the likelihood of suicide.

Both bills received a favorable report from the Tourism Committee and could receive a vote on the Senate floor as early as Thursday.

Similar legislation passed the Senate in the 2021 Alabama Regular Legislative Session, but never got introduced on the floor of the House of Representatives.

Sen. Del Marsh (R-Anniston) said, “The people want something to vote on.

“I want to encourage my House colleagues to bring this to the floor. Thus far, it is the Senate who has been doing work on this.”

Since SB293 is a constitutional amendment, it requires a three-fifths supermajority in each House for passage. It would also have to be ratified by a vote of the people on the Nov. 8 general election ballot.

Thursday will be day 21 of the 2022 Alabama Regular Legislative Session.

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