A recent opinion piece in Yellowhammer News encouraged legislators to force yet another vote on legalizing gambling in Alabama. I'd like to rebut a few of the points made in that piece with my thoughts in bold. The piece began: 

“For years, the question has lingered throughout Alabama: lottery or no lottery? To game or not to game? The answer? Folks, it is already here!”

There are no legal lotteries in the State of Alabama and games of chance are prohibited by the State Constitution. The Alabama Supreme Court has ruled 13 times that §65 permits only traditional paper card bingo. Any other variations of bingo or games of chance are unlawful. Alabamians shouldn't tolerate lawlessness, and illegal operations should be shut down.

“If you haven’t ventured into any of Alabama’s three casinos owned by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians – Wind Creek Casino and Hotel Wetumpka, Wind Creek Casino and Hotel Atmore, and Wind Creek Casino and Hotel Montgomery – it’s worth the trip.

I found that both Alabamians and visitors agreed when I visited the Wind Creek Casino in Montgomery. The parking lot was packed, restaurants and convenience stores inside the casino were booming, and countless individuals were immersed in an atmosphere of entertainment.”

These federally authorized casinos have nothing to do with a state lottery. Furthermore, studies show that many state lotteries actually lose money (they ALL expand state government). Half of the states that currently have lotteries failed to break even between 2008 and 2015.

There is little/no local benefit to businesses from casinos. It is part of their business model to keep retail and restaurants on location so people continue to gamble. “A 2022 study using U.S. Census Bureau data in casino communities from 2002-2017 found that casinos did little to increase retail sales growth,” Alabama Policy Institute’s (API) December report on gambling states. “In fact, during the Great Recession (2007-2008), retail sales in casino communities shrank at a rate two to three times greater than those in non-casino communities. Employment in casino communities also grew slower across the entire study period.”

Casinos also bring additional human trafficking, drug crimes, and violent crimes along with them. Don’t believe me? Ask any honest law enforcement officer in Alabama.

“It is no wonder Indian gaming revenue has been increasing heavily since 2008.” 

There is no such thing as gaming revenue.

Also, have you ever wondered why it used to be called gambling and now it’s called gaming (by proponents)? Gaming sounds like little children having innocent fun on a Nintendo playing Super Mario in their mom’s basement. Hard core gambling and the addictions and crime increases that follow are anything but innocent. 

“However, there’s a catch when it comes to state revenue.

These establishments operate under sovereignty, falling outside state law, leaving Alabama with no major tax benefits from their establishments.

Governor Ivey commissioned a study group in 2020, which yielded a 900-page report proving that a state lottery would bring in an estimated $200 million to $300 million, coupled with an additional $300 million to $400 million from casino gaming – a combined influx of $700 million into Alabama.”

It would COST the citizens of Alabama $1.03 billion in losses in order to “gain” state coffers much money in taxation from a lottery. Additionally, “if the state could ‘raise’ the revenue estimated in Gov. Ivey’s 2020 gambling report, it would equal only 1.6% of the state’s $43.2 billion budget for fiscal year 2023,” the December API report states. The societal cost of gambling far outweighs any tax “benefits.”

“All this time, Alabama has been enhancing the bottom line of our neighboring states instead of tapping into the potential economic windfall from a legalized lottery and gaming system.”

There is no windfall from state government attempting to benefit off the false hopes and gambling losses of our neighbors. That is simply untrue. “In states with legalized lotteries, residents were 280% more likely to have gambled in the past year, 900% more likely to have bought lottery tickets at least thirty times in the past year, and 70% more likely to report a personal gambling problem,” API’s report explains. It is estimated that almost 9% of property crimes and 12.6% of violent crimes in counties where there are casinos are due to the casino’s presence. Gambling isn't a victimless activity or harmless entertainment. 

“In a time when our service industry and small businesses are hanging on by a thread, we are shaking our heads at what could be an economic windfall for our state. Alabama needs to make some bold moves, or we are going to go underwater.”

Our state government had a $3+ billion surplus in 2023 and is slated to have a 2.2+ billion surplus in 2024. That is hardly underwater. 

Expanding and legalizing gambling won't positively impact our service industry or small business whatsoever. In fact, it would hurt them.

“The benefits extend beyond mere fiscal revenue. By approving a lottery and gaming package, Alabama’s generated revenue would be directed toward education and healthcare – two areas our state is constantly making strides to improve.”

Education spending has increased 84% in the past decade in the state of Alabama.

The healthcare industry received $218.5 million from state taxpayers and $745 million from federal taxpayers in COVID funding alone.  

“A recent poll shows that 78% of Alabamians want the opportunity to vote on lottery and gaming. Think about that for a minute. Almost 8 out of 10 Alabamians want to vote to change our state’s economic outlook for the better.”

I'm surprised that it wasn't 100%. Did the pollster ask if they wanted to vote yes or no? Voters always want to vote. Especially in Alabama.

“One would think that a gaming package would easily pass through the Legislature as our legislators are elected to represent the people of Alabama’s voice. Yet, in the past legislative session, the Senate voted to pass the bill for a state lottery only to be voted down by the House.”

Current members of the House of Representatives haven't taken up gambling legislation, but new and current members of the House who are tempted or being coerced into voting for an omnibus gambling bill should be aware that the makeup of the Senate has also significantly changed and the converse may now be true.

“It makes absolutely no sense that Alabamians want to vote on gaming, yet the very people they elected to represent them would deny their wants.

Legislators are there to represent their constituents. Period. End of Story.”

We have a representative government, not a direct democracy. We expect our representatives to know and understand how they should vote to represent their constituents and to protect their communities, not to weakly pass the buck every time there is a difficult vote against monied and powerful special interests. That is, quite literally, their job.

“The governor has repeatedly stated that she would like to see the people vote on a lottery and gaming.

By letting the people decide through a vote, the state can embrace individual freedom, limit government interference, and secure a brighter economic future. Lawmakers should rally behind the idea that the people of Alabama have the right to shape the economic destiny of their state. After all, the democratic process, championed by the Republican Party, recognizes that citizens, not elected officials, should determine the path forward.”

Gov. Ivey was against gambling for decades before she decided she was for it. And, again, we have a Republic, not a direct democracy.

We also have a State Constitution that intentionally prohibits gambling and a State Supreme Court that has ruled more than a dozen times that gambling is illegal in the state.

Further, members of the Alabama Legislature are elected in order to represent their constituents, not shirk their responsibility and create a ballot initiative instead of voting on controversial issues. If we had that system, we wouldn't need legislators at all.

“As the legislative session reconvenes on February 6, legalizing lottery and gaming in Alabama is not just about the potential economic windfall; it is a testament to our elected officials’ faith in the democratic process.”

Again, that is a misnomer and – if I may – a sleight of hand. Our legislators are elected to represent us, not undermine or ignore the very process in which they participate.

“Let’s see who champions our state to have a lottery and gaming industry that brings much-needed revenue to Alabama. Those will be the legislators who leave a legacy far beyond their term in office.”

On this final point we can agree.

Which legislators will fall for the falsehood that state government condoning and legalizing gambling will lessen its availability?

Which legislators will vote to create a corruptible gambling commission and exponentially expand state government?

Which legislators will deny their responsibility as elected officials and pass the buck to the people for a lopsided public referendum?

Which legislators will choose a monopoly for illegal operators and which legislators will stand for the rule of law?

Which legislators will vote to fund their pet projects on the backs of the poor in Alabama?

Stephanie Holden Smith is the president/CEO of Alabama Policy Institute.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to [email protected] 

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