By KIM CHANDLER Associated Press
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A proposal to institute a state lottery narrowly cleared its first hurdle in the Alabama Legislature on Tuesday and could head to a floor vote later this week.
The Senate Tourism and Marketing Committee voted 6-5 to advance the bill by Republican Sen. Greg Albritton of Atmore. The legislation as introduced specified that a lottery would be played with paper tickets, including instant tickets and multi-state lottery games, and would not allow video lottery terminals which can resemble slot machines.
“This is a paper lottery,” Albritton said. “I just don’t think the people of Alabama want to be little Nevada,” Albritton said.
The lottery proposal reignited the longstanding rivalries over electronic gambling. Some senators said they wanted to see video lottery terminals allowed at state dog tracks. The Poarch Band of Creek Indians, which operate three bingo casinos, opposed another bill that would allow the slot machine lookalikes at locations around the state.
“I think we need to be dealing with electronic,” said Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro. “We need to do a complete lottery that will grow and get the maximum amount of dollars that we possibly can for the state of Alabama.”
The Senate Committee added an amendment over Albritton’s objections that Singleton said was aimed at protecting the tracks’ current electronic bingo operations. While Albritton’s bill forbids video lottery terminals, Singleton’s amendment specifies that electronic bingo and pari-mutuel betting are excluded from the definition of video lottery terminal.
Singleton said he is trying to maintain the “status quo” at the tracks and make sure a paper lottery law couldn’t be used to shut down the tracks current electronic bingo operations. Albritton said he is concerned it “does a lot more than they say it does.”
Alabama is one of five states — along with Utah, Alaska, Hawaii, and Nevada — without a state lottery. Past attempts to establish a state lottery have failed under a politically fatal mix of conservative opposition to gambling and feuds over electronic gambling.
Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh said the bill could be on the Senate floor as soon as Thursday.
“I think the people are ready to get a vote, one way or the other on this issue. I also believe as the pro tem that this simple bill is the one that most people want to deal with on the floor,” Marsh said.
The Legislative Service Agency, which estimates how much revenue bills will generate, predicted a paper lottery would produce $166.7 million annually.
House Speaker Mac McCutcheon said last week that representatives are in a “wait and see mode” to see what comes out of the Senate.
Alabama voters would have to approve any lottery measure because it would require a change in the state constitution. If lawmakers approve the legislation, the idea would go before voters next year.
Alabama voters last went to the polls on the idea of a lottery in 1999, when they rejected a lottery proposed by then-Gov. Don Siegelman. Former Gov. Robert Bentley in 2016 called for a state lottery in response to a state budget crisis, but the measure failed to get out of the Legislature.