Alabama Legislature Faces Deadline on Gaming Decision: Voters’ Right to Decide Hangs in the Balance

Alabama Legislature Faces Deadline on Gaming Decision: Voters’ Right to Decide Hangs in the Balance

By Kirsten J. Barnes

The Alabama Legislature has only three more days to decide whether voters will have the right to vote on gaming.

The gaming constitutional amendment passed the Alabama House, but the initial vote in the Alabama Senate gained only 20 of the 21 votes needed to pass. However, the bill could come up for a second vote next week during the final three legislative days of this session. 

Before the vote was taken people from both sides of the aisle spoke as if they were certain the bill would pass. However, one senator who spoke as if he was going to support the bill decided not to.

Still, Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton said he is confident that the matter is still alive. 

“We need this new income. After 2026, we’re going to find out that all the federal (COVID) money is gone, and we’re going to need this income in Alabama,” said Singleton (D) Greensboro, who has served in the Alabama Legislature since 2002. “This is the closest we’ve come in 20-plus years, but we can still get over the hump.”

Sports betting was stripped from the bill, but it still included an education lottery and casinos.

If approved by the voters, the amendment would set up a gaming commission, which would oversee a state education lottery, gambling proceeds fund, state tax and gambling revenue, statewide gambling regulations, and would repeal local bingo provisions. Also, it would allow the governor to enter a State Gaming Compact with the Poarch Creek Indians, who operate three casinos currently in Alabama: Montgomery, Wetumpka, and Atmore.

Additionally, gaming proceeds would fund a post-secondary scholarship program for in-state two-year community and technical colleges, along with in-state four-year colleges and universities, regardless of whether the schools are public or private. The amendment will also provide funding for state education and bonuses for employees and retirees of the Teachers’ Retirement System.

“I feel good because about where we are in the process,” Singleton said. “I believe in our members. I believe in this body. And I believe in this process. So, until that bell rings, I am not going to give up this process.”

The Alabama Senate has eight Democrats and 27 Republicans. 

“My eight came through, and I believe we can come up with 21 votes,” Singleton said. “Right now, we are just working with what we’ve got. We’ve been dealt a hand and I’m just hoping members will come around and see what is at stake and be able to give the people of Alabama the right to vote.” 

The bill would also set up a Gaming Proceeds Fund, which would support mental health care, rural health care services, telemedicine, infrastructure, state park and historical site improvements, bonuses to state employees and retirees of the Employees’ Retirement System, and the establishment of drug courts, Veterans courts, and other deferred prosecution programs within our state judicial system. 

Funding would not go to support the building of any new prisons, which was suggested at one time. 

“Our lottery will be a part of the multi-state lottery, and we will have our own lottery. Additionally, the gaming facilities will be able to have any electronic game that they want, and the Indians can’t have any more gaming rights than anyone else has,” Singleton said. 

Gaming is predicted to generate $750,000 in new tax revenue in the first year and improve with each year thereafter.

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