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Alabama Sports Betting, Casino and Lottery Bill Advances

Alabama Sports Betting, Casino and Lottery Bill Advances article feature image

Taylor Hill/Getty Images. Pictured: The Alabama State Capitol.

Alabama lawmakers advanced legislation Tuesday that would give voters in one of the last remaining states without a lottery or commercial casino the chance to legalize these gaming options as well as retail and online sports betting.

The Alabama Senate advanced a lottery, casino and sportsbook constitutional amendment bill 23-9 Tuesday. If passed, the bill would allow state voters to approve the aforementioned gaming options via a 2022 ballot referendum. Lawmakers approved a separate regulatory bill 27-4.

The legislation now goes to the House, where future progress is uncertain in one of the nation’s most politically conservative legislatures. The constitutional amendment bill, which anchors all follow-up regulatory bills, must pass with two-thirds supermajority support.

The state’s 2021 legislative session ends next month.

Casino and Lottery Details

If passed through the legislature and approved by voters, Alabama could see six full-scale commercial and three tribal casinos.

The state’s greyhound racing complexes in Mobile and Birmingham, as well as more rural Green County (near Tuscaloosa) and Macon County (near Montgomery), could apply for full-scale casino licenses. A bingo facility in Houston County (which includes Dothan) and a new casino gaming center in either Dekalb County of Jackson County in the state’s northeast could also apply.

Licensing fees would range from $5 million to $35 million for the facilities in more populated areas and would be good for 10 years. The newly established Alabama Gaming Commission would select each casino licensee via a competitive bidding process, but the existing facility operator in the aforementioned entities could outbid the winner and earn the license.

The Poarch Band of Creek Indians operate limited bingo facilities in Atmore, Montgomery and Wetumpka. Each facility could also earn full-scale casino licenses, subject to a renegotiated gaming compact with the state.

The legislation would allow “Las Vegas-style” casino gaming, including slots, table games such as blackjack and a wide variety of additional options, subject to the commission’s approval. The bill also includes historic horse racing terminals, which are only legal in a handful of states, as a potential gaming offering.

The bill also creates a state lottery. Alabama is one of only five states without a government-run lottery (joining Nevada, Utah, Hawaii and Alaska). Neighboring Mississippi, the most recent lottery adopter, started selling tickets in 2019.

Potential Alabama Sportsbooks

All nine gaming facilities would also be able to open retail sportsbooks, subject to regulatory approval. The bill further allows each commercial casino operator to partner with three independently branded online sportsbooks, or “skins,” apiece.

The Creeks would also be able to offer online sports betting, but it’s unclear at this point if each facility would also be permitted three skins each. If so, there could potentially be as many as 27 online sportsbook operators in Alabama.

Eligible bettors age 21 and up could wager on both in-state and out-of-state college athletic events, including popular programs such as the University of Alabama and Auburn University. Sportsbooks would be taxed 20 percent gross gaming revenue, one of the nation’s highest rates.

What Comes Next for Alabama Gambling?

Alabama’s latest gambling effort comes more than a month after a separate, lottery-only proposal failed and more than two decades after voters overwhelmingly rejected a similar lottery expansion effort. Gaming proponents believe this year will finally push through the largest legal gambling expansion in state history.

Sen. Jim McClendon, who sponsored the constitutional amendment bill, told The Birmingham News now is the time to resolve decades of gambling deliberation through a voter referendum. He told the paper he expects the House to pass the gaming bills this session.

This latest effort comes after Gov. Kay Ivey commissioned a 2020 gaming study that found Alabama could generate up to $300 million in annual lottery tax revenues as well as $400 million from casinos and $10 million from sports betting. Ivey, as well as other high-profile Republicans including former Auburn football coach and current senator Tommy Tuberville, have also supported voter’s right to legalize gambling in the state.

Backers such as McClendon are hoping more favorable national gambling views apply to Alabama, one of the nation’s most culturally and politically conservative states. Though the Senate easily cleared this year’s gaming measures, gambling skepticism remains in the legislature as well as through influential conservative and religious groups such as the Alabama Citizens Action Program that oppose gambling in any form.

American voters have increasingly warmed to gambling-related ballot measures, even in some of the nation’s most conservative states. Traditionally conservative states such as Arkansas, South Dakota and Louisiana have all overwhelmingly approved sports betting ballot measures in recent years.

A 2020 poll conducted in conjunction with Ivey’s gambling study found more than two-thirds of Alabamans generally back legal gambling expansion, with more than seven in 10 supporting a lottery.

It remains to be seen if shifting national and local attitudes will bring legal gambling to one of its last remaining holdouts. The legislature has only a few session days remaining on its legislative calendar and several other major legislative issues to resolve before the session adjourns next month.

If passed, anti-gambling groups will also have nearly a year-and-a-half to organize against the sweeping proposal. Interested casino and sportsbook operators, possibly including such big names at Caesars, Penn National, Bally’s and MGM, could help rally the “yes” vote, but the final result is still very much in doubt.

For now, Alabama is still closer than it arguably has ever been toward legal gambling now increasingly common in other states.

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