By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Top state lawmakers say they expect to debate gambling in the 2022 regular legislative session that starts next month.
“I’m not going to predict whether or not that will pass but I do think that will come up,” Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth said Wednesday at an Association of County Commissions of Alabama event.
Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Range, will likely sponsor a lottery and gambling bill. He told Alabama Daily News on Wednesday that he doesn’t yet have a draft bill, but he’s starting with what the Senate passed earlier this year and trying to build more consensus among his colleagues.
“We have to make sure we have the (state gambling) commission set up to make sure we have a good, strong board,” Albritton said.
The Alabama Senate approved sweeping lottery, casino and sports betting legislation earlier this year but it failed to reach a vote in the House before the regular session ended.
Albritton said gambling already exists in the state and needs to be better regulated.
“We can either choose to ignore it, or we can do what the government is supposed to do, and that’s control industries like this so that we can regulate it properly and tax it and benefit from it,” he said. “It’s not a matter of us letting gaming in, it’s a matter of exercising the proper controls over it.”
Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, was also in attendance at Wednesday’s county commission association meeting and told Alabama Daily News that he knows it will be hard to pass gambling legislation during an election year but thinks now is the right time.
“With all of the money flowing through the state right now because of federal dollars, that money is going to dry up. All of those funds for broadband, for education, for rural hospitals, when all of that is gone we’re still going to need money,” Singleton said. “So this is the right time to get gaming legislation done.”
Singleton, who supported the 2021 gambling bill, said that for the new legislation he would need to see equal treatment of all casinos already in the state in order for him to support it.
“I want to make sure that there is a fair shot for everyone, that there is a good tax base and that everyone is taken care of,” Singleton said.
Albritton agreed that a gambling bill can’t hurt existing gaming sites to have a chance to pass.
Previous attempts to pass lottery legislation have failed in recent years due to a various mix of conservative opposition to gambling, longstanding feuds over electronic gambling and how to use the lottery revenue.
Alabama is one of five states — along with Utah, Alaska, Hawaii, and Nevada — without a state lottery.
Albritton said he thinks the largest potential revenue for the state would be in the regulation and taxation of online gaming and sports gaming.
“That’s where this industry is blossoming,” Albritton said.
Ainsworth said the 2022 session will also see package of bills aimed at helping small businesses in the state.
“We do a great job recruiting the big industries, but what can we do to help the smaller industries?” Ainsworth said.
He also mentioned that work will be done to create a small business hotline with the Alabama Department of Commerce, where business owners can call and ask about programs or for help.
Improving life for military families, including education near bases, was another priority Ainsworth mentioned. He also spoke about developing a “space guard” as a part of the state’s national guard force and plans to have a bill for that.
Both Ainsworth and Singleton, D-Greensboro, mentioned the priority of allocating the state’s American Rescue Plan Act funds.
The Legislature will decide where the ARPA funds go and Singleton said it is a priority for Senate Democrats to use those funds for improving health care in the state.
“We want to look at taking care of rural hospitals and trying to expand Medicaid and mostly making sure we can take care of those who are least able to,” Singleton told ADN.
Alabama Daily News reporter Mary Sell contributed to this report.