Earlier this month, the Alabama Legislature concluded business without addressing the gambling issue in the state, but the work to formulate a state lottery or even a "comprehensive gaming plan" is well underway.
Gambling continues to be a topic of strenuous debate amongst lawmakers and their constituents. Casinos, bingo halls, racing tracks and other forms of gambling exist in the state. However, there is no state lottery or regulatory agency to oversee gambling operations.
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall's office has prosecuted several gambling operations in the state in recent years, but legal and illegal gambling operations still pervade the state.
While bills to address gambling have historically originated in the Senate, support in the House of Representatives has always been the sticking point.
With new leadership in the House under Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville), an effort is underway to study and address the logistics of implementing a state lottery or possibly a comprehensive gaming package.
An ad hoc committee of about nine House members was assembled to study gambling practices in the state and possibly introduce a bill in 2024 to present state-regulated gambling options.
State Rep. Andy Whitt (R-Harvest), who sits on the committee, told 1819 News that the committee continues to look at the gambling operations already in the state and delivers regular reports to Ledbetter on the committee's progress.
"This committee was entrusted to study the gaming practices that are currently taking place here in our state, whether they be legal or illegal," Whitt said. "As legislators, it is our job to regulate the gaming that is taking place but we have failed year after year. We are looking at multiple ideas for bringing forth a good piece of passable legislation for our members to vote on. This is my goal and I think we can get there."
"The committee has made great strides in understanding the types of gaming in our state and we are taking a deep dive into exploring what regulatory and enforcement legislation would look like. Additionally, we are studying what potential lottery or sports betting options would look like and how current legal gaming in the state would factor into this equation. The reports given to the speaker are a combination of progress reports and concerns brought forth by fellow members of the committee. The conversations have been ongoing and productive."
A state lottery would require a constitutional amendment to remove Alabama's Constitution of 1901 prohibition against gambling. The citizenry of the state must vote to approve constitutional amendments.
The closest Alabama came to enacting a lottery came more than two decades ago. Although it had made it to the ballot, the voters defeated it by a 54%-to-46% margin in a 1999 special election.
"We will see some form of legislation introduced in the upcoming 2024 session related to the lottery or a comprehensive gaming plan," Whitt continued. "It is our job to ensure that this committee does its job and vets any legislation to its fullest extent. We need to make sure we educate our fellow house members with the facts and ultimately let them decide on any proposed legislation. Personally, I am proceeding with the goal of bringing forth a piece of legislation to be voted on. Our citizens want to vote, they deserve to vote, and it is well past time for our citizens to vote on a gaming bill."
Earlier this month, Ledbetter said the committee already had "a lot of things put together," and many people in the state want a state lottery.
"If you think about it, we've already got gaming in our state," Ledbetter said. "It's here. The problem we have is that there's no regulation over it and it's running rampant. I think my biggest thing is to regulate it to put a commission in place that does that."
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