As expected, Alabama lawmakers have filed a comprehensive gambling bill for consideration during the 2024 legislative session. The bill aims to legalize retail casinos, sports betting, and a state lottery. Reps. Andy Whitt and Chris Blackshear say gambling expansion could bring up to $1 billion in revenue annually for the state, which would go to funds like education.
Its supporters say the proposed legislation will regulate and reduce the thriving illegal gambling scene in Alabama. Political leaders like Governor Kay Ivey and House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter have joined the call for regulation, which many hope will help push the bill through the legislature. However, any gambling expansion in Alabama requires a constitutional amendment, so the question will go to voters in the November 2024 elections if the bill passes.
Gambling Could Generate up to $1 Billion Annually
Lawmakers had the chance to read the proposed legislation, HB 152, on Feb. 8. Some key details include:
- Establishment of the Alabama Gaming Commission, Alabama Lottery Corporation, and Gaming Enforcement Division.
- Establishment of up to 10 casinos, including a gaming compact for the three tribal gaming facilities operated by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. The tribe will receive the right to open a fourth casino.
- Retail and online sports betting.
- State lottery.
- Tax rate of 24% for casinos and 17% for sports betting revenue.
The gambling expansion could boost Alabama’s tax revenue significantly. The bill’s sponsors expect their proposal to generate between $800 million and $1 billion annually:
- Casinos: $298 million to $422 million.
- Gaming Compact with Poarch Creeks: $300 million.
- Lottery: $194 million.
- Sports Betting: $10 million.
Some point out that the number could be higher, as they believe the sports betting revenue projection is too low, especially with online sports betting. The bill doesn’t specify how many online sportsbooks would be allowed to operate.
Revenue from the lottery will go to the state’s education fund. The fund supports scholarships for community and technical colleges, dual enrollments, research, school security, and other expenses.
Revenue from casinos and sports betting will go to the general fund. Lawmakers vote each year on where the fund’s money will be spent.
In addition to tax revenue, the proposed legislation could create over 12,000 permanent jobs. The estimate is based on an economic analysis of a similar bill proposed a few years ago.
Gov. Ivey Expresses Clear Support
In her annual State of the State address on Feb. 6, Gov. Ivey expressed her support for the then-anticipated bill. While not a supporter of gambling, she feels regulation is the right way to battle illegal gambling. She said she hopes Alabamians will have the chance to vote on the proposal. She added,
I believe the current proposal being contemplated by the Legislature is good for Alabama, and I will be carefully watching it move through the process. It will crack down on illegal gambling, and it will responsibly regulate limited forms of legal gaming, including a statewide lottery. Thank you to Speaker Ledbetter and his leadership team for their hard work on this. Now is the time for Alabama voters to have another say on this issue.
The governor’s support and call to pass the measure before the Nov. 2024 elections could significantly improve the bill’s chances.
House Speaker Ledbetter has also called for regulated gambling. Having clear support from two of the highest Republicans is critical, as the party holds a ¾ majority in the House and Senate.
House Speaker Pro Tempore Chris Pringle told reporters at the bill’s introduction that its chances are 50-50. If true, that’s a better success rate than the average gambling expansion effort. However, he added that lawmakers are just starting to read the bill.
Meanwhile, House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels said the first responses have been “pretty positive” for most, but some members have concerns. If the bill passes the House, it will likely pass the Senate. The Senate has been more open to gambling in the past and even passed a similar comprehensive gambling bill a few years back.
Opponents Say Regulation Is Not the Answer
As expected, there’s plenty of opposition. The Alabama Farmers Association and the Business Council of Alabama have made it clear that they’ve been against gambling expansion in the past. Two other organizations have joined them in their opposition: the Alabama Policy Institute and the Alabama Citizens Action Program (ALCAP).
Greg Davis, president of ALCAP, recently wrote in a blog post that regulation is not the answer but rather a way for pro-gambling interests to profit from Alabamians. He asserted that no US jurisdiction has seen a reduction in illegal gambling after legalization efforts.
According to Davis, legalization means the government favors some regions and cities and grants monopolies to favored companies. He also said that the ones benefiting the most from regulation are the same ones who have been breaking the law for years.