The people's voice of reason

Senate passes much diminished gambling bill

On Thursday, after a debate that dragged on for over ten hours, the Alabama Senate passed a gambling bill by a 22 to 11 margin.

This was a much different bill than the one the House Gaming Study Committee drafted in secret without any public input whatsoever. That bill was forced through the House with backroom deals and intimidation by the leadership. It was also dead-on-arrival in the Senate. The Senate passed their own substitute bill without Class III casinos, sports betting, internet betting, electronic bingo, or Alabama hope scholarships. These components of the House of Representatives bill were deemed too radical by members of the State Senate.

The Senate kept the new Alabama Gaming Commission, patterned after the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission, but with state police powers and its owned armed force. It also kept the state lottery and a requirement that the Governor to negotiate a compact with the Poarch Creek band of Indians (PCI). This bill also closes down illegal gambling, requires that any raffles get a state license, severely restricts poker games, and does away with the legally ambiguous local constitutional amendments that only applied to certain counties. It also creates state licensed gambling centers in Macon County, Houston County, Jefferson County, Mobile County, two in Greene County, and one in the city limits of Whitehall in Lowndes County. These would not be able to operate electronic bingo style machines; but they would be allowed to run parimutuel betting on dog and horse races that are simulcast or live. It would also legalize historical horse racing machines – which are currently in use at Victoryland in Shorter and other gambling halls now. The historical racing machines replaced the electronic bingo machines after Attorney General Steve Marshall (R) got an order from the Alabama Supreme Court that the electronic bingo machines were illegal under the Alabama Constitution.

The bill does not have any incentives for actual horse racing in Alabama. Neither the House or Senate bill includes any funding to support the return of horse racing in Alabama; although at one time horse racing was a reality at a track in Birmingham. Alabama is one of six states that still allows dog racing; but with the rise of casino gambling, scratch off lottery games, and electronic gambling means that actual dog racing is in rapid decline.

The House of Representatives could vote to concur with the Senate gambling bill; but Speaker of the House Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville) has told the media that the House will not concur with the Senate gambling bill.

If the House does not concur that means the issue will go to a conference committee and the conference committee will draft a third version of the gambling bill. Both Houses will then vote up or down on that conference committee version.

Since this is a constitutional amendment, it will still have to be ratified by a vote of the people. The House version of the bill would have set that election on the general election ballot – November 5. The Senate version of the bill would have set a special election to deal with the gambling issue on September 10.

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