20 years after Alabama said ‘no’ to lottery, debate continues

20 years after Alabama said ‘no’ to lottery, debate continues

By Mary Sell, Alabama Daily News

It was 20 years ago Saturday that Alabamians voted against a state lottery. There have been attempts in recent years to get another vote to them via a constitutional amendment, and it will likely be a topic in the 2020 legislative session.

Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Range, sponsored a lottery bill this year. It passed the Senate and died in the House. Albritton on Thursday said he’s told House leadership that any future lotto legislation has to start in their chamber. His bill died without a vote in the House this year.

“It’s got to come up out of the House,” Albritton said. “We’ve sent them bills now twice and they’ve killed them. It’s your job now, you do it.”

Lottery supporter Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, agreed that a bill should now start in the House.

Clouse said he was one of 11 GOP lawmakers to vote to put the constitutional amendment before voters in 1999. At that time, Tennessee didn’t yet have it’s lottery. Soon, Mississippi will.

“We’ll be surrounded,” Clouse said.

In 1999, supporters of the lottery outspent opponents 3-to-1 in promotional advertising, according to media reports. Church leaders organized against the proposal. Some church and conservative groups have continued to lobby against a lottery.

Clouse said he’s studying the issue now, ahead of the 2020 session, but hasn’t decided if he’ll sponsor a bill.

“If we’re going to do it this quadrennium, it needs to be this coming year to get (an amendment) on the November ballot,” Clouse said.

Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, spoke in favor of a lottery bill this week.

“Alabama is in dire need of additional revenue, and keeping the proceeds from a lottery within the state rather than exporting them to our sister southeastern states seems a commonsense source for it,” McCutcheon said. “I hope the impasse that has blocked the public from voting on a lottery thus far will be overcome.”

Previous disputes about a lottery bill included what would be allowed and how revenue would be spent.

Albritton’s 2019 bill authorizes a lottery played with paper tickets, including instant tickets and multi-state lottery games. It would not allow video lottery terminals, which can resemble slot machines. It’s estimated proceeds were $166 million a year.

House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville, said to be successful in the future, lottery proposals and discussions have to be broader.

“There are conversations for more of a bigger picture to address a lottery or gaming in general,” Daniels said. “If there is movement, I think it would be more comprehensive.” 

He said it will take brining together interested parties to see where compromise can be reached.

“Based upon the way the lottery bill has failed the last couple of years, I expect there to be broader conversation among all parties,” Daniels said.