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Alabama Senate committee approves ‘plain and simple’ lottery bill; Gaming issue not dead

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Senate Tourism Committee on Wednesday afternoon gave a favorable report to SB 319 as substituted. This bill, sponsored by Sen. Jim McClendon (R-Springville), would propose a constitutional amendment to legalize a lottery in the state of Alabama.

The committee action came via a voice vote, with no dissension noted.

McClendon referred to the contents of the substitute version of SB 319 approved by the committee as “a plain and simple lottery.”

The bill would see a lottery administered by a newly created Alabama Lottery Corporation, which would be overseen and regulated by a newly created Alabama Lottery Commission.

“The corporation may allow lottery games of all types,” the legislation reads. “Games may include, but are not limited to, new games, draw lotteries of various types, interstate lotteries such as Powerball and Mega Millions, instant winners such as scratch-offs, Keno, and iLottery, or any other lottery offered in another state. The corporation shall make participation convenient by ensuring that purchases are available at retail outlets either by ticket purchase from an employee or from a kiosk or vending machine that does not require an employee to handle the transaction. The corporation may allow iLottery, mobile platforms, and computer purchases.”

The bill then explicitly adds, “The corporation may not approve or operate video lottery terminals or any casino or similar gambling establishment and may not approve or operate any game played with playing cards, dice, dominos, slot machines, or roulette wheels. Any game using live dealers is strictly prohibited.”

Nothing in SB 319 “affects, prohibits, or limits any activity that was legal at the time this [constitutional amendment] becomes effective including, without limitation, pari-mutuel betting and charity bingo, as provided for by specific laws.”

While this was ushered quickly through the committee on Wednesday, Sen. Del Marsh (R-Anniston) explained that SB 319 is really viewed as the legislative vehicle to get some type of gaming constitutional amendment to the people of Alabama for a referendum by the 2022 general election, at the latest. This means that the version of the bill approved by the committee could still be significantly changed before the full Senate votes on the measure; this includes the prospect of other forms of gambling, such as casino gaming, potentially being added to the bill.

Sen. Rodger Smitherman (D-Birmingham) expressed that he still would very much prefer to see a comprehensive gaming proposal move forward for the people of Alabama to consider.

This comes after SB 214, Marsh’s comprehensive gaming constitutional amendment, fell just two votes short in the Senate last week.

While that specific bill is dead, the issue is apparently not for the session; the Tourism Committee on Wednesday also passed the enabling legislation that would have implemented SB 214. Without that bill in play anymore, the enabling legislation would simply be preparing for the eventuality of another gaming constitutional amendment advancing. Marsh’s enabling legislation could even implement SB 319, if that legislation is ultimately broadened and passed by the legislature.

McClendon’s current enabling bill for SB 319 is SB 320, which the committee also approved as substituted. The details of that bill will also likely change before the Senate takes a vote, however, as currently written, this legislation would see lottery proceeds split evenly between the state’s General Fund and Education Trust Fund; there are no earmarks in SB 320.

“There is no doubt in my mind, and I don’t think anyone around this table doubts it, that the people of Alabama want to vote on something dealing with gaming — whether it’s a straight lottery, whether it’s a comprehensive package, the people of the state are, in my opinion, at a mandate level wanting … to make this decision,” Marsh said.

Sen. Steve Livingston (R-Scottsboro) remarked, “I think folks home are ready to play (gaming). … Alabamians are ready to play.”

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

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