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Alabama House Democrats withhold support, preventing consideration of lottery and gaming legislation

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama House of Representatives on Thursday failed to take up legislation regarding a lottery or casino gaming.

A proposed special order calendar for the day originally included SB 319, SB 309 and SB 311 — a constitutional amendment and two enabling bills, respectively, that would have legalized and regulated a lottery, limited casino gaming and sports betting in the state.

However, Yellowhammer News has learned that the House Minority Caucus approached Republican leadership in the chamber on Thursday morning with the surprise news that Democrats would be unable to support the legislation — unless their newly presented demands were met. Without Democratic votes, the gaming proposal did not have the necessary three-fifths support to pass the chamber.

After a day of negotiations that ultimately did not pan out, it became clear around 11:00 p.m. on Thursday that the legislation was dead, at least for the day. Thursday was the 29th and penultimate day of the 2021 regular session. May 17 will be the final day.

Rep. Juandalynn Givan (D-Birmingham) on the floor asked, “Is the gaming package … off the table, yay or nay?”

“Well, you need to meet with your caucus group and ask how many votes you have,” replied Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia). “We’ve got to have enough votes to pass it before we’re going to put it on the floor.”

Givan then said she would make a public admission.

“The bottom line for the people listening is that the Minority Caucus would not come together with the Republican side, because we had certain demands,” Givan confessed. “And we felt we were worthy to have our demands met.”

“We finally for the first time in 12 years, since I have been here, have stood strong and stood together,” she added. “I am proud of the African American, Black Democratic Party Caucus in the Alabama House of Representatives.”

After subsequent assertions of Republicans not negotiating in “good faith” made by Rep. Chris England (D-Tuscaloosa), House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville) gave an impassioned rebuttal and corrected the record. England is also the chair of the Alabama Democratic Party.

Ledbetter stressed that Democrats finally came to the table with their demands “at the last hour,” following months of the legislature having the gaming issue at the forefront of the public discussion.

“Our members have fought for this,” Ledbetter said. “We tried from day one — I met with the people that were in charge and tried to work out a compromise that we could live with. We tried to work it out today. And it didn’t work. To come up here and say that we didn’t try is not right.”

The Republican leader, responding to an interjection from the floor by England, said, “You were at one meeting, Chris. One. And I wish you would’ve been at more. I really do. Because you brought a lot of good things to the table. We got something from the upper chamber that would just not work. We tried to fix it the best we could.”

Ledbetter credited Rep. Chris Blackshear (R-Phenix City), who was carrying the gaming legislation in the House, for working “his tail off” meeting with different members of both parties to try and find consensus. In contrast to England, Ledbetter also said Rep. A.J. McCampbell (D-Linden) “was in every meeting.”

“We didn’t come to a compromise,” Ledbetter outlined. “We didn’t come to a compromise this afternoon. Not at 5:00 in the afternoon on the last day. That’s not the way we work on something. It’s not fair to our members, it’s not fair to the people of the state of Alabama, to put people in a position like that when they don’t have time to look at it and vet a bill that’s such a large bill.”

“I hate that this didn’t work out,” he concluded. “But to say we weren’t just in our caucus and our members weren’t fair is just not true.”

In contrast to the House Democratic Caucus’ position, all Senate Democrats present this session voted for the gaming legislation when it passed the upper chamber last month.

Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro) stated at the time, “This has been a long time coming. The people of Alabama deserve the right to be able to vote on gaming, and they have wanted this chance for the past 20 years. This vote will allow our residents to finally reap the benefits of gaming, by allowing those who play games in Georgia, Mississippi, Florida, or Tennessee to now play those same games at home.”

“This vote has the potential to be a major game-changer for our education and healthcare systems. I’m proud to be a part of this legislative body and this is a great day for the state of Alabama,” he added.

This is not the first time that House Democrats have withheld their support from gaming legislation this quadrennium. A lottery bill passed by the Senate in 2019 subsequently failed in the House after receiving only three Democratic votes in the lower chamber.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn