Conference Committee Holds Alabama’s Last Hope for Gambling Expansion, But Time Is Short

A conference committee meeting this week will kick off what is the last hope for an Alabama gambling expansion referendum this November. The goal of the committee will be to find a compromise between the state’s House and Senate. Both chambers passed gambling legislation earlier this year, but have significantly different views on which forms of gambling to present to voters.

In February, the Republican-led House passed comprehensive gambling bills establishing a lottery, tribal and commercial casinos, sports betting, and respective regulatory agencies. The success was partly due to calls for regulation by prominent political figures like House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter and Gov. Kay Ivey. While both are against gambling, Ledbetter and Ivey have said regulation is the key to fighting illegal gambling in the state.

However,  the Senate, which has been more open to gambling in the past and even passed a similar comprehensive bill in 2021, rejected the bills. The chamber passed an amended version with significant changes, such as removing commercial casinos and sports betting, adding parimutuel betting, and moving the vote to September.

As expected, the House rejected the Senate’s changes. That means the last hope for gambling expansion depends on a conference committee formed by three members from each chamber. As gambling expansion requires changes in Alabama’s constitution, if the legislation passes in both chambers, it would go to the voters.

Who Are the Committee Members?

Last week, the Senate appointed Minority Leader Sen. Bobby Singleton, Sen. Greg Albritton, and Sen. Garlan Gudger. Albritton carried the House bills into the Senate. Previously, he’s said that while he’s unsure how to get there, there’s a lot of middle ground. Meanwhile, Singleton has been more positive and vocal about finding a compromise between the two chambers.

The House appointed its members about two weeks before the Senate. The three members include Rep. Chris Blackshear, Rep. Andy Whitt, and Rep. Sam Jones. Blackshear is the primary sponsor of HB151 and HB152. After the Senate rejected his proposals, Blackshear was critical of the counter-proposal. He added that educating Senate members could help them understand the House bills.

Meanwhile, Whitt is a co-sponsor of the House bill. Last year, he was also a part of an ad-hoc committee formed to explore future gambling options in the state. After traveling across the state, Whitt concluded that it is “the Wild West” in Alabama with regard to gambling.

The remaining committee members—Sen. Gudger and Rep. Jones—also voted in favor of the gambling bills in their respective chambers.

Committee Faces Race Against the Clock

Conference members must find a compromise relatively soon if a gambling proposal is to reach voters. That’s because, after today, there will be only six legislative meeting days.

The 2024 Alabama legislative session ends on May 20, and lawmakers must pass the bill at least 10 days before the session adjourns. That leaves May 9 as the last day for the potential amended bill to pass both chambers. The committee must find a solution and present it to the House and Senate in time for a vote.

However, even if the committee finds common ground, the bill might not pass, especially in the Senate. Sen. Albritton previously said some members have taken a hard line on sports betting and casinos.

There is evidence of that in last week’s 19-14 vote to send HB151 and HB152 to a conference meeting. Albritton told reporters that two of the 19 votes were new. That means five Senators who voted for the Senate bill were against the conference meeting. In comparison, the Senate’s version of HB151 passed with a 22-11 vote, while HB152 passed with a 23-10 vote.

A bill needs three-fifths of the vote in each chamber to pass. For the Senate, that means 21 votes, two more than those that voted for the conference meeting. Meanwhile, three-fifths means 63 votes for the House. That should be easier to attain given that HB151 passed with a 70-32 vote, and HB152 passed with a 67-31 vote.

About the Author

Chav Vasilev

Chav Vasilev

After years of managing fast-casual restaurants, Chav turned his passion for sports and occasional slot wins into a career as an iGaming writer. Sharing his time between Europe and the US, he has been exposed to betting and gambling for years and has closely followed the growth in the US. Chav is a proponent of playing responsibly and playing only at legal online sites. When not writing, you will find him watching and betting on sports, especially soccer, or trying to land the next big bonus on a slot.
Back To Top

Get connected with us on Social Media