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Stephanie Smith: API applauds Senators who voted ‘no’ for gambling

Last night, a majority of the Senate Republican Caucus voted against a statewide legalization and expansion of Vegas-style casinos. API sincerely appreciates each of the Senators that understood the negative impact that legislative action would have had on our state. All 15 of them acted boldly on our state’s behalf despite an inordinate amount of pressure; that is statesmanship. The report from the pro-gambling conference committee was a further expansion and legalization of gambling, choosing winners and losers amongst those currently breaking the law. 

This year’s gambling push began with proponents asserting that since there is illegal gambling occurring in Alabama, the answer to that problem was to increase access to newly legalized and newly updated gambling facilities. Members argued that illegal operations would suddenly cease even though illegal operations continue in every single state where gambling has been legalized. Note: it is illogical to believe that you must expand gambling in order to curtail gambling.

Pro-gambling messaging shifted to how best to maximize profits made off the backs of the poor and mathematically challenged and how to spend the revenue. Democrats insisted, and received, language guaranteeing a focus on a full expansion of Medicaid (a policy that has been fought by Republicans and limited government advocates for decades). Democrats ceded the date of the ballot in return for an additional expansion of the types of gambling allowed at the legislatively chosen locations across the state (currently illegally operating locations). Somehow, the once asserted argument for job creation in the Blackbelt was lost in the conference agreement to have fully electronic table games at seven locations. Republicans and their Democrat allies argued that the lottery is really “for the children” and dangled raises, capital projects and possible scholarships in front of legislators as they made their decision. 

API’s messaging hasn’t changed because API’s beliefs haven’t changed: gambling is bad for Alabama. Gambling doesn’t produce anything – it takes money from local economies and creates nothing but short-term entertainment and long-term addiction problems. Gambling simply redistributes wealth from the addicted to those who intentionally profit from their addiction. 

The Alabama Policy Institute has three pillars by which we measure every public policy idea (limited government – free markets – strong families). The current proposals expanding gambling are detrimental to all three. Expanding gambling expands government. The proposed structure around the gambling apparatus is unaccountable and would operate with little transparency to the public. The commission would wield too much power and have too little accountability. The possibilities for a corrupted process are almost guaranteed. In addition, the bills create an enforcement arm with full police powers but controlled only by the unelected and unaccountable commission. The proposal being considered actually rewards those who have been illegally operating by grandfathering them in, expanding their operations, and rewarding their lawlessness. Nothing violates free market principles more than a government al entity picking winner and losers. Lastly, the bills will harm families. Domestic violence and white-collar crime have increased as a direct result of the legalization of gambling in other states. Petty crime, violent crime, and drug dealing goes up exponentially near every active casino location. Human trafficking is a serious issue in Alabama that would be exacerbated by the legalization of casinos and other types of gambling. Mental health issues, suicide attempts, and addiction rates all increase with increased access to gambling.

The proposal being debated Tuesday was largely negotiated behind closed doors. The original bills were only allowed to be reviewed and not taken for analysis. The content of the Senate passed bills were a secret until the very last second. The conference committee met without notice and approved the bill with little discussion. Details of the bills were not available online and many legislators hadn’t seen them until after the House vote. This process has been anything but transparent. API stands by each Senator who saw through the haze of back room dealing and strong-armed lobbying tactics of the gambling operators who are doing nothing more than attempting to make the maximum profit off the losses and addictions of others. 

Stephanie Holden Smith is the president/CEO of Alabama Policy Institute.

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