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Lottery bill filed in Alabama Senate

MONTGOMERY — State Sen. Jim McClendon (R-Springville) Tuesday filed legislation that would implement a lottery in Alabama.

With the regular session of the state legislature back underway for the first time since the special session focused on the Rebuild Alabama Act adjourned, legislators were back on Goat Hill with a bevy of issues to address.

One of the most talked about topics around the state, and in the capital city, has been the lottery. In a press conference, McClendon explained that he is proposing a constitutional amendment that would legalize a lottery. He is simultaneously bringing a regular bill that would allocate the lottery revenue. The constitutional amendment would go straight to a referendum of the people if passed by the legislature, while the bill would go to Governor Kay Ivey’s desk.

While McClendon called the lottery plan his bill proposes “clean,” there will be debate over the very definition of what constitutes a “clean lottery.”

McClendon’s legislation would establish the Alabama Lottery Commission, with members appointed by the governor, lieutenant governor, Senate president pro tem and speaker of the House. The commission would issue a request for proposal, and a private company would then be chosen to manage the lottery, with oversight from the commission. The lottery management company would not be allowed to contribute money to political PACs or candidates.

The legislation would mandate that a person must be 18 years or older to purchase a lottery ticket. McClendon emphasized that he was not bringing the legislation to solve financial problems in Alabama, but that he did not want Yellowhammer State residents to have to travel and spend their money out-of-state if they want to participate in a lottery.

“For too long, the people of Alabama have been forced to drive to Tennessee, Florida, and Georgia to buy lottery tickets,” he explained in a statement. “Alabama dollars are being spent in neighboring states, funding their schools and their infrastructure projects. It is overwhelmingly clear that the people of Alabama want to vote on a lottery.”

During the press conference, McClendon said his proposal would explicitly maintain that casinos and card or table games of any kind are still illegal in the state.

He added that his legislation would mean increased job security for employees at GreeneTrack and similar existing facilities in the state that have been known to conduct pari-mutuel betting. The commission would license these facilities, which would have exclusive rights to video lottery terminals after a one-year transition away from electronic bingo.

As proposed, the lottery’s proceeds would go evenly to the Education Trust Fund and the General Fund. That is expected to be a major point of discussion and debate in the legislature, as members haggle over where the funds should go and how much of it should be earmarked.

McClendon welcomed this inevitable discussion and stressed that he wants the process to play out in public. Not handling the revenue allocation side of the equation in a constitutional amendment will allow the flexibility in future years for legislators to make changes as warranted.

The legislation would also offer new programming through the Alabama Department of Public Health to help gambling addicts. This would be funded from unclaimed lottery winnings, according to the state senator.

McClendon acknowledged that “it’s a fact” that lottery revenues decrease over time, but once his proposed lottery would get up and running, the initial annual revenue he estimates is $250 million. This is contingent on the commission allowing a flexible range of lottery games, including multi-state games like Mega Millions and Powerball and scratch-offs. His bills have not been given fiscal notes yet, meaning the state’s legislative services office has yet to confirm or rebut that revenue estimate or what expenses would be incurred by the state.

McClendon noted that since the commission would contract with a private company to administer the lottery, new state employees would not be needed.

He expressed confidence that the makeup and attitude of the legislature have changed now to benefit the chances of a lottery passing out of both chambers. If this happens, he wants the referendum by the people of Alabama to occur when turnout will be at its highest.

“It’s time we let the people vote,” McClendon said.

He identified the 2020 primary date of March 3 as his ideal date for that referendum to occur. This could have the added benefit of driving turnout up in the Republican contest to face Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL).

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

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