On Wednesday, Feb. 7, Alabama lawmakers gave some of the highlights of a proposed gambling bill that will completely change the landscape of betting in the state. The bill allows for a state lottery, sports betting and as many as 10 casinos in the state. An Alabama Gaming Commission would also be created to oversee things.
If approved by the Legislature, the Alabama gambling legislation will go before voters in November in the form of a Constitutional amendment. Alabama’s 1901 Constitution prohibits lotteries and games of chance. But the bill advancing in the Alabama Legislature would override that and introduce the new forms of gambling.
Getting a bill through the Legislature isn’t going to be a slam dunk. Despite being introduced nearly every year, the gambling bills seldom make it far in the Legislature.
The last serious bill that would have allowed a lottery, casinos, sports betting and created a state regulatory commission advanced in the Senate. But it was gutted by the House and later died. This new bill is beginning in the House and will move to the Senate if approved.
The bill has some formidable opposition, most notably the Alabama Farmers Federation. Republican lawmakers have also squabbled with each other, which has kept any of the Alabama gambling legislation from advancing too far.
Supporters of the bill say the gambling activities could raise as much as $800 million annually for the state.
The cost of opening a casino won’t be cheap, either. Each casino license will require a $5 million fee, with an initial investment of $35 million. Building of the casino would have to begin within a year of receiving the license.
Not All Bill Supporters Are Gambling Fans
Rep. Andy Whitt, one of the bill’s strongest supporters, is not a supporter of gambling expansion. But he said illegal gambling is a huge problem in Alabama and something needs to be done about it. He would much rather see a state regulated approach to gambling than the current illegal online gambling that takes place today.
“It’s a problem that has been lingering here for decades, and I think now we have an opportunity in front of us to finally put a stop to it,” Whitt said. “Our goal here is to run the bad actors out of the state.”
Nowhere is the illegal betting market more prevalent than through online gambling sites. But Whitt believes Alabama residents will bet through legal means if given the chance.
A telephone poll in August showed the residents of Alabama overwhelmingly supported the idea of allowing the public to decide on gambling, something Whitt agrees with.
“We believe that people deserve the right to vote on this issue,” he said.
The Alabama gambling legislation needs 60% approval in the House and Senate to go before the voters in November for a Constitutional amendment.
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