MONTGOMERY — The ball is back in the Senate's court after the Alabama House of Representatives voted on Thursday to non-concur with the Senate's changes made to two comprehensive gambling bills.

The constitutional amendment, HB 151, passed in the Senate on March 8 with one vote to spare over the necessary 21-vote threshold by a margin of 22-11. Accompanying enabling legislation, HB 152. passed by the same margin. State Sen. Greg Albritton (R-Atmore) carried both bills in the Senate.

The Senate's substitute amendment included 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 weren't included in the Senate's plan like the House's version.

The constitutional amendment would be voted on in the Senate plan on September 10 in a special election. The House version was estimated to raise annual revenue to the state by around $1 billion. The Senate version is estimated to raise around $300 million annually.

The House non-concurred on the Senate's changes on Thursday, and the bills now head to a conference committee made up of three members from each chamber.

State Rep. Chris Blackshear (R-Phenix City), who sponsored HB151 and HB152, said in a statement "More than 14 months went into crafting this package – the first comprehensive gaming plan to ever pass in the Alabama House of Representatives." 

"We were thoughtful in our approach to addressing every aspect of this issue, and I truly feel that the House's final product is what the people want to vote on," Blackshear said. "I have serious concerns with the Senate's substitute legislation. It rewards those who have operated illegally for decades by handing them licenses without an open-bid process, utilizes lottery revenue to fund non-education expenses and fails to adequately regulate sports wagering, which is one of the most prevalent forms of illegal gaming in the state of Alabama."

Any new compromise legislation approved by the conference committee that included sports betting or additional Class III gaming locations like blackjack and craps would likely face an uphill battle in the Senate.

"Well, it's an opportunity to go to conference. That's about all I know to say," Albritton told 1819 News on Thursday.

State Sen. Chris Elliott (R-Josephine) said he wasn't optimistic about any new versions passing before the session ends. 

"If the House was interested in passing this legislation, I think from my conversations with my colleagues in the House, they had the votes to simply concur. This is the third time that the Alabama Senate has passed a bill that put tight controls on gambling in Alabama and gave the people the ability to vote on a very simple paper lottery which is what we think our constituents really want, at least the vast majority of them," Elliott told 1819 News.

"For the House to non-concur and send it back with only 11 legislative days left and a lot of other things to do still I think was strategically not a good move if they want to see this bill actually pass and that's just from a bandwidth and time needed to process argument. Practically, any changes would lose votes in the Senate and it just doesn't really make sense to me. It really doesn't. We set up something again for the third time that could have passed and given people a chance to vote on a lottery and done the tightening up of the gaming regulations that they wanted. I'm not optimistic at this point."

State Senate Pro-Tem Greg Reed (R-Jasper) said in a statement to 1819 News, "The Alabama Senate is proud of the legislation we passed to stop unregulated gaming, close illegal casinos, and allow Alabamians the ability to vote on a statewide paper lottery." 

"Our priorities were to put bad actors who illegally operate gaming facilities in Alabama out of business and give Alabamians an ability to vote for a statewide paper lottery at the ballot box. Our legislation accomplished that goal," Reed said. 

Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro) told reporters he still thought a compromise could be worked out with the House before the session ends.

"I think there could be a hybrid between the two. We've just got to sit down and think for those people who are going to be appointed," Singleton said. "I know we didn't get a chance to appoint our conferees today and I think along with the House conferees we could all sit down as men and women and possibly come up with something. I believe in this process."

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