Alabama Senate debates lottery bill; delays final vote

Article by: Mike Cason

April 7, 2021



The Alabama Senate today debated legislation to establish a state lottery but the sponsor postponed a vote on the main bill because he was concerned about having enough support.


“It’s all about the count,” Sen. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, said. “If you’ve got the number of votes with a little cushion, you push on. It was cutting it too close.”


The Senate passed one bill in McClendon’s two-bill package but never got to the main bill, a constitutional amendment that would give voters a chance to decide whether to establish a lottery.


Lawmakers meet again Thursday but McClendon said he did not expect the bill to be considered until next week.


Forty-five other states have lotteries, including the four that border Alabama.


McClendon said it is time for Alabama voters to have their say on a lottery. Lottery bills are proposed every year but none have passed the Legislature since voters rejected Gov. Don Siegelman’s lottery plan in 1999.


“I think it’s time we addressed what the people of Alabama want,” McClendon said. “We’ve had poll after poll show the people of Alabama overwhelmingly want to have the right to vote yes or no on a lottery in Alabama.”


His bill would set up a commission to oversee a lottery that would include multi-state games like Mega Millions and Powerball, instant games, and allow people to play the lottery on their smart phones.


But there is opposition to passing a lottery bill that would not include casinos, sports betting, and comprehensive regulation of gambling already in Alabama.


Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Atmore, spoke against McClendon’s bill on the Senate floor today. Albritton said the state needs a bill that would regulate gambling overall in the state, including electronic bingo operating under local constitutional amendments in some counties.


“It is time that we start acting as the grown up in the room and taking charge of it,” Albritton said.


Gov. Kay Ivey has said she favors a comprehensive gambling proposal that would provide uniform regulation of all gambling in the state. That follows the findings of a study commission Ivey appointed that released a report in December.


The Senate returned to the gambling issue today, a month after Sen. Del Marsh’s proposal for a lottery, casinos, and sports betting fell two votes shy of advancing.


Marsh favors a comprehensive gambling bill and has said McClendon’s lottery bill could still be changed to serve as the vehicle for that. Marsh said McClendon did not have the votes it would have taken to end an expected filibuster and pass the lottery bill today.


“I think what this showed today, it’s going to be in my opinion nearly impossible to get a vote on a straight lottery bill,” Marsh said. “I think you’re going to have to have a comprehensive bill.”


McClendon said his purpose is to give voters a chance to approve a lottery. But he left open the possibility of expanding his bill if that’s what it takes to get it on the ballot.


“The people in my district want a lottery,” McClendon said. “Ideally, I would have a simple, straightforward lottery bill. But if it requires something more complex than that in order to get a lottery bill, I will certainly entertain the thought.”


McClendon’s legislation includes two bills. One is the proposed constitutional amendment which requires at least 21 votes to pass the 34-member Senate and is the main bill.


The other is an “enabling bill” that spells out some of the specifics about how the lottery would operate and where the funds would be used if voters approve the constitutional amendment. But the enabling bill matters only if the main bill passes.


The Senate passed the enabling bill today, but not before some contentious moments. Sen. Clyde Chambliss, R-Prattville, at first said he would use the Senate rules to delay a vote on the legislation as long as he could.


“It’s going to be a long night in Montgomery, Alabama,” Chambliss said. Later, he said, “You’re going to have to run me flat over to get this bill through this body tonight.”


Chambliss said he was concerned about problems with gambling addiction.


The Senate later adopted five amendments that Chambliss proposed, including one that would raise the minimum age to buy a lottery ticket from age 18 to 21.


The Senate also adopted an amendment by Sen. Chris Elliott, R-Fairhope, that would apply the net lottery revenue to gradually replace the state sales tax on groceries.


The Senate approved an amendment by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, to put 5% of lottery revenue into a trust fund for retired education employees until the amount in the fund reaches $100 million.


The Senate passed the enabling bill twice, by a vote of 26-3 the first time. Chambliss asked to have it reconsidered, and the Senate voted 19-12 in favor of that request. Debate on the bill continued and amendments were adopted.


The Senate then approved the enabling bill for a second time by a vote of 30-2. That set the stage for bringing up the constitutional amendment, the key bill in the package.


The constitutional amendment, cleared its first hurdle today, a procedural vote to allow the debate to continue. The vote was 25-5. After that, McClendon asked to carry the bill over, or delay the vote. The Senate then adjourned for the day.


“It was wisest to get part of the job done,” McClendon said. “We’ve got one of the bills in place. And the other one, we’re poised for success but I wanted to make sure we had sufficient number of votes to get the job done. If you lose the vote, it’s over. It’s gone. You have to start from scratch. I did not want to take that risk today.”

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