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Rep. Whitt to Senate: ‘We’re going to get you a bill’ to decide on gaming

No member of the Alabama Legislature has crafted a gaming bill to be introduced at the upcoming session that starts in two weeks, but it’s going to happen and will be up yet again for voters to decide whether or not it passes.

That became clear Monday when the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber annual Alabama Legislative Update featured three state lawmakers at the Jackson Center in Cummings Research Park.

Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur), Senate Majority Leader Steve Livingston (R-Scottsboro) and Rep. Rex Reynolds (R-Huntsville) all touched at least briefly on the subject while at the podium when addressing a room full of government, civic and business leaders.

Even Rep. Andy Whitt (R-Harvest), the speartip regarding gaming discussions at the State House who was sitting in the audience, was eventually handed a mobile microphone to weigh in.

Gaming – poker machines, bingo, lottery, etc. – will almost certainly appear on the ballot this year. It’s an issue that Alabama voters have wrestled with since the end/start of the last two centuries and have voted proposals down at each turn. Currently, a license is needed for bingo and, if the game is run properly, it’s legal.

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State residents have tried to solve the riddle of having an extra revenue stream, which many supporters of a lottery say should fund education, to squelching fears of nefarious undercurrents.

Whitt, who represents House District 6 (Madison and Limestone counties) is chair of the Economic Development and Tourism Committee and the vice chair of the House Financial Services Committee. He’s been charged with looking at gambling now or moving forward within the state.

“Gaming is happening in all 67 counties in the state of Alabama, illegal gaming,” he said.

Illegal machines, including slots, have been seized throughout the state going back to 2022.

Operating games such as bingo that hand out cash prizes are in a gray area. While a license is required by law, there are other factors. All money must go to nonprofits in many cases, but there could be loopholes or altogether legal avenues to justify the games.“It’s going to get looked at,” Whitt said.

Orr, who represents Senate District 3 (Morgan, Limestone, and Madison counties), mentioned gaming in passing during his turn at the dais. Chair of the Finance and Taxation Education Committee in the Senate, he’ll leave it to the House “to solve the Gordian knot of gaming.”

Livingston, who represents Senate District 8 (DeKalb, Jackson, and Madison counties) agreed it was up to the House of Representatives to make the first move.

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“Our friends in the House are working on the gaming issue,” he said. “And I can assure you the Senate will take the gaming issue up if the House passes (a bill). We’ll have to see how that develops.”

Reynolds, who represents House District 21 (Madison County), chairs the house’s Ways and Means General Budget Committee.

“I do want to commend Chairman Whitt,” Reynolds said. “He’s worked this entire (past year) on it once Speaker Livingston challenged him to do so. And he’s gone in and seen illegal gaming throughout the state of Alabama. Our leadership has got out in front of that.

“We are gonna address gambling and we are gonna address it early in the House. We’ve certainly had some caucus meetings already and we’re having some tough conversations about that. We don’t have a constitutional right to provide gaming in Alabama. All we have to do is get the right bill for you to vote on it in Alabama. That’s your decision, and we’re certainly gonna try to make that happen.”

Said Whitt, “We’re going to get you a bill for you to vote on it. The people vote on it. There is no bill. I can’t go into any details, so we’ll leave it that.”

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