Alabama senator to propose lottery, but not casinos

Article By: Mike Cason

March 10, 2021


One day after the surprising defeat of Sen. Del Marsh’s bill to allow voters to decide whether to have a lottery and casinos in Alabama, another senator is planning to propose a lottery only.


Sen. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, introduced his legislation on Tuesday and hopes to have it considered in a Senate committee next week.


McClendon said he thinks the lottery-only approach is what people are most interested in when it comes to expanding gambling in Alabama. He said that’s based on polling and conversations with people outside the State House.


“I haven’t had anybody in my district come to me and say, ‘I wish we had a roulette wheel or a craps table.’ They don’t say that. They come to me and say, ‘I’d like to buy a lottery ticket without leaving the state.’ They don’t mention table games and casinos,” McClendon said.


McClendon has tried lottery legislation more than once. Five years ago, his bill passed the Senate but did not get final approval after it was changed in the House. The Legislature hasn’t approved a lottery bill since 1999, when voters rejected the plan by Gov. Don Siegelman.


McClendon said his plan would set up a small commission to oversee a lottery that would include the multi-state games like Mega Millions and Powerball, as well as an Alabama lottery.


“Whatever games that are played in our surrounding states I would like for our people here in Alabama to be able to play without having to leave the state,” he said.


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


McClendon said he would propose splitting the net revenue evenly between the Education Trust Fund and the General Fund.


“I’m going to leave it to the budget committees to allocate that money wherever it’s needed every year,” the senator said.


The bill McClendon introduced on Tuesday is not a simple lottery. It would allow video lottery terminals at the state’s four greyhound tracks and at a facility in Lowndes County. But McClendon said he plans to replace the bill with a new version that will not include the video lottery terminals, which are electronic machines for playing lottery games.


Lottery and gambling bills require a constitutional amendment, which needs approval by three-fifths of senators and representatives before going on the ballot for voters.


The Senate voted 19-13 in favor of Marsh’s bill, two votes shy of the 21 needed.


“We all knew it was going to be close,” said McClendon, who voted for the bill. “I thought it would be one vote. I didn’t know if it would be one vote plus, one vote minus. And I don’t know why others voted no on that bill.


“It was complex. It had a lot of moving parts. And the more moving parts there is, the more opportunity for somebody to find a problem.”


Two senators who voted against Marsh’s bill said they were concerned about some of the details. Both also said they were not supporters of expanding gambling.


Sen. Will Barfoot, R-Montgomery, said Marsh worked hard to give everybody a say in the bill. But Barfoot said he was concerned about voting for the constitutional amendment before the enabling legislation, companion bills that spell out details about how to implement the plan.


“I am not a huge supporter of gaming,” Barfoot said. “But I understand that people want an opportunity to vote on it. And given another chance on it, that result may be different. Just procedurally, I could not vote for the (constitutional amendment) without the implementing legislation being in front of us and having an opportunity to debate it.”


On that point, Marsh said he tried to eliminate those concerns by committing to passing the enabling legislation before the issue went on the ballot for voters.


Sen. Larry Stutts, R-Sheffield, said he wanted Marsh to include in his plan a tax cut to offset the increased revenue the state would receive from the lottery and casinos, which was estimated at about $500 million a year or more. Stutts said one idea was to remove the sales tax on groceries.


“I’ll be honest. I’m fundamentally against gaming as a way to finance the state,” Stutts said. “But I was willing to listen and I know there’s public support for some type of gaming legislation. And I’m willing to listen to the details. And I strongly feel that if we’re going to raise that tax money we ought to decrease taxes somewhere else.”


This story was updated at 10:47 a.m. on March 11 to say that McClendon’s bill also allows video lottery terminals at the state’s greyhound tracks.


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