The people's voice of reason

Conference Committee passes out a massive expansion of gambling in the state of Alabama

On Tuesday the six members of the conference committee on the gambling bill voted 6 to 0 in favor of a controversial gambling bill.

The House passed a massive gambling bill that would have generated between one and one point two billion dollars a year. That bill, which had been crafted by a House committee meeting in secret for over a year, was dead on arrival in the Senate. The Senate passed a more scaled back bill that would have brought in an estimated $300 million.

Conference Committee member Senator Greg Albritton (R-Atmore) said that this bill would bring in an estimated $650 million.

Rep. Cris Blackshear (R-Phenix City) is the sponsor of House Bill 151 – the constitutional amendment and HB152 the enabling legislation that would be empowered by the passage of the amendment.

Blackshear said that the conference committee version of the bill would prohibit dice games, card games, and table games commonly found at casinos. It would allow seven casinos with electronic gambling. Sports betting would not be allowed.

Reporters asked Albritton why they did not allow sports betting in this bill.

"Sports betting is under the bleachers of every high school in the state," said Albritton. "Sports betting is everywhere we just don't have the votes."

Blackshear said that the bill would also allow the governor to negotiate a compact with Poarch band of Creek Indians (PCI). That compact would however be limited to land that the Indians already have in trust, ostensibly forbidding them from expanding to other locations around Alabama.

The casinos would be in Houston, Macon, Jefferson, Lowndes, Mobile, and two in Greene County.

PCI operates electronic bingo casinos currently in Escambia, Elmore, and Montgomery Counties.

Blackshear said that the bill would tax the seven licensed casinos at a rate of 20% to 28%. All other gambling locations outside of those ten would be eventually closed.

The legislation also creates a state lottery that would be in all 67 Alabama counties.

"100% of those proceeds go to education purposes only," Blackshear said.

The House bill had set the vote on the gambling bill on the November 5 general election ballot; but Senate Republicans pushed back on that.

"The election date of the special election will be held August 20, 2024," Blackshear said.

Blackshear said that some of the education lottery dollars could go for 2 year technical school scholarships, some for scholarships to four year in state public and private colleges, and some of the money could be used to pay bonuses to retired teachers and education employees.

The money from the casinos would go to the general fund and some of that could go to bonuses for retired state workers.

"The Legislature has been struggling with this for a long long time," Albritton said.

This is a compromise bill where few interests in the state got everything that they wanted.

"I don't think there is anybody who is happy with this," Albritton said.

Blackshear said that the bill would create and Alabama Gambling Commission with oversight over gambling in the state. There would be a lottery corporation underneath the Commission to administer the state lottery.

Blackshear explained that the licensed gambling facilities must purchase a license and make a minimum investment of $35 million in their facility. The initial license length is ten years. If they build a $100 million or greater facility the initial license length is 15 years. If they build a $200 million or greater facility the initial license length is 20 years.

The conference committee bill has to pass both Houses of the Legislature to pass.

"It will be a close vote," Albritton said.

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