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Ivey to establish working group to study gaming expansion, lottery

MONTGOMERY — During her 2020 State of the State Address on Tuesday evening, Governor Kay Ivey tangibly stepped into the debate over gaming expansion and a state lottery for just about the first time in her tenure as governor.

Towards the very end of her remarks, Ivey addressed both the Poarch Band of Creek Indians’ historic compact proposal and the general push to legalize and form a lottery in Alabama.

The Poarch Creek have proposed a plan that would boost the state coffers by over a billion dollars and pave the way for a clean, state-run lottery to be instituted. That plan, along with an education lottery proposed by State Rep. Steve Clouse (R-Ozark), are expected to be on the legislature’s agenda for their 2020 regular session, which gaveled in earlier in the day on Tuesday.

However, Ivey’s address may slow down the pace at which both of those proposals can advance, at least right now.

Right after speaking about the record-breaking economy the state is enjoying, as well as her commitment to continue lifting Alabamians who have not yet benefited from the recent economic growth, Ivey warned that times will not always be this good in the state. For tough times, she implied, extra revenues may be needed in the form of gaming expansion and/or a lottery. However, the governor wants to study the best approach and ensure anything proposed benefits the state of Alabama to the fullest potential.

“My reminder is that every challenge is an opportunity waiting for action. And while we are enjoying the best of times — and my budgets and these requests reflect that — we must prepare for a changing environment — one beyond our control — that recognizes times won’t always be this good,” she said. “To that end, here is my challenge.”

Ivey then gave some historical context.

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.

Keep in mind, the last time the Legislature gave the voters had an opportunity to cast their vote, the so-called“education lottery” was voted down by the people of Alabama by 54 to 46 percent. It wasn’t even close.

Since then we’ve heard promises of hundreds of millions of dollars — now we are up to a billion dollars — that would be available if the Legislature would give the people another opportunity to vote on a lottery or if I would negotiate a compact… If it were only that simple.

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 continued, ‘That is why I will be signing an Executive Order to establish a small working group of some of Alabama’s most distinguished citizens, to begin working, to gather all the facts on how much money we could really gain if some form of gaming expansion occurred. Vetting on these individuals is already underway and I will be releasing these names in the coming days.”

She acknowledged that the four states bordering Alabama all have some form of gaming.

“And neither you nor I are naïve enough to believe that we’re benefitting in any way when our people cross the state line to bet on a game of chance,” Ivey said.

The governor underlined her support for letting the people of Alabama vote on the issue. Both the Poarch Creek proposal and Clouse’s lottery bill would be constitutional amendments, meaning they would have to go before the people of the state via referendum.

“While I, personally, have never believed we should fund essential state services on such an unstable source of funding, I have always maintained that the people of Alabama should have the final say on whether or not we are going down this path,” Ivey remarked. “So that, my friends, is what this working group will be charged to get – the facts!”

“Once they have done so — I will bring these facts to the 140 members of the legislature and the people of Alabama. And we will then, once and for all, be in a position to determine whether or not this is a path we want to pursue,” she added. “Ultimately, my pledge would be for the people of Alabama to have the final say. But first, we must get the facts and understand what they mean.”

Ivey then seemed to somewhat hit the pause button on both proposals.

“My challenge to the legislature is: give us some time to get the facts and then, together, we will give the people of Alabama the information they need to make the most informed decision possible,” the governor said. “As you know, when we have achieved great success in the past, it was only accomplished through a bipartisan effort and many months of advocacy to do what is in the best interest for the people of our state.”

RELATED: Dial admits ‘Poarch Creek Accountability Now’ funded by out-of-state special interests

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

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