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Ivey backs vote on legal gaming, state lottery: ‘Now is the time for Alabama voters to have another say’

Putting legal forms of gaming back to a vote of the people of Alabama – as well as rooting out illegal operations currently pervasive across the state – solidified its position on the table in the 2024 legislative session with support from Governor Kay Ivey in her State of the State address on Tuesday night. 

“This year when Alabamians make their way to the ballot box, I hope they will be voting on another issue: Gaming,” Ivey said. 

“I believe the current proposal being contemplated by the Legislature is good for Alabama, and I will be carefully watching it move through the process. It will crack down on illegal gambling, and it will responsibly regulate limited forms of legal gaming, including a statewide lottery.”

RELATED: Is Alabama feeling lucky about gaming in 2024?

In 2020, Ivey first broached the topic of gaming in her State of the State address. In the time since, two serious legal gaming packages have made their way through the legislative process, but ultimately failed before making their way to the desk of the governor. 

At that time, calling for a commision to closely study the issue, Ivey reflected, “For years, going back to 1999 when Governor Siegelman was promoting an Alabama lottery, we’ve been hearing that expanding gaming in some form, perhaps a lottery — or maybe a compact with our Native American neighbors — would solve all our problems and provide money for all sorts of good ideas.”

“Many of our legislators were not even serving the last time a governor had to declare our budgets in proration, making sweeping, across-the-board cuts. But I remember those times and let me tell you, we do not want to go back there,” Ivey said in 2020. 

RELATED: Whitt: It’s time we let the people decide the fate of gambling in Alabama

Courtesy of a renewed focus by members of the Alabama House of Representatives, lawmakers are primed to debate legal gaming this legislative session informed by recent unsuccessful attempts. Attempts that have been arguably handicapped most by a lack of legislative time required to reach an agreement between parties. 

“Changing gambling law means changing our Constitution, and that means it has to go to the ballot for the people of Alabama to decide,” Ivey said in a statement to Yellowhammer News in December. “The last time the Legislature proposed a constitutional amendment on gambling to Alabama voters was in 1999, and frankly, I support Alabamians having another opportunity to vote on the issue. 

In her State of the State address this year, she thanked Speaker of the House Nathanial Ledbetter (R-Rainsville) for his leadership on the issue, which has remained one of the highest-visibility, yet most controversial political issues in Alabama in the 21st century. 

RELATED: Ledbetter: ‘Illegal gambling will continue to grow’ without regulations

In a comprehensive report released in 2020, a study commission appointed by Ivey identified the potential annual revenue of legalizing gambling in Alabama could be in the range of $510 million to $710 million.

With options ranging from maintaining a current restrictive posture to fully legalizing gambling, the commission outlined potential paths — including enhancing enforcement against illegal gambling, approving a state lottery while banning other forms, allowing limited gambling activities, or embracing full gaming legalization without restrictions — each featuring varying implications for state revenue, enforcement mechanisms, and social costs.

“The people of our state want to vote on this issue and they deserve the right to do so. It has been almost 25 years since Alabamians last voted on a lottery referendum, and conventional wisdom indicates such an amendment would pass by a landslide margin if placed on the ballot today,” Rep. Andy Whitt (R-Harvest) told Yellowhammer News in December.

“But in the quarter-century since the last referendum, much has changed, and a more comprehensive approach to gaming is needed, especially since it demands a statewide referendum vote.”

“We must determine what legal gaming we want to allow, regulate its operations, and allow the state to accrue revenue while, at the same time, shutting down illegal gaming, strengthening the laws against it, and punishing those who violate the law. As for my constituents, it is crystal clear to me that they desire to vote on this issue,” Whitt said.

Grayson Everett is the state and political editor for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @Grayson270

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