Senate sponsor Albritton says Alabama must take control of the game

(WKRG) — A comprehensive gambling bill has just four legislative days left to pass through the Alabama legislature and voters for approval this fall. Senate sponsor Gary Albritton, R-Atmore, said the bill was necessary to control gambling in Alabama and allow the state to benefit financially.

Currently, Alabama is one of five lottery-free states in the country. A 2020 poll as part of a state gambling study shows that 71% of Alabamians want one. But the reality is that they will probably never be able to vote for just having a lottery.

“The (reason) is just vested interests,” said Sen. Chris Elliott, R-Daphne. He said there are about 20 locations in the state that currently run various gaming facilities, usually limited to electronic games, often for the benefit of charities, due to about 20 constitutional amendments that have been adopted by voters over the years.

“They have their interests and they have their legislators doing what legislators do and watching over their particular communities,” Elliott said. “The problem is that when we’re talking about a lottery, those interests come into play.”

Albritton said he understood why voters wanted to vote on a standalone lottery, but he said it was more complicated than that.

“We can do it, but it won’t help,” Albritton said.

Albritton said that due to constitutional language, adopting a lottery alone would allow current unregulated gaming entities to expand their operations. That’s why he’s proposing a comprehensive gaming bill that would include a lottery, sports betting and five full-fledged casinos.

These casinos are believed to be in four locations where unique dog tracks exist: Mobile, Eutaw, Jefferson and Shorter. A fifth casino would be built somewhere in northeast Alabama and would be operated by the Poarch Creek Indians. Albritton’s plan calls for the state to negotiate a pact with the Poarch Creeks that would require them to donate a certain portion of their profits to the state.

“Right now the state can’t even regulate these (Indian casinos),” Albritton said. “If we make a pact, we can start working with them and get some of the revenue from that.”

Critics, however, said this bill picks the winners, like the Poarch Creek Indians and current owners of dog runs, and that the market should control where and how many casinos exist.

Elliott agrees with that, but said he would likely vote to make the plan public.

“It’s a flawed plan,” Elliott said. ” I do not like it. I would like to release a clean lottery. I think that’s what my constituents want, but I also think they want to be able to vote on games as well, if that’s what they have to do to be able to vote on a lottery.

Albritton has a companion bill that would create a state gaming commission to codify and regulate all gambling in the state. This could be done by the legislature alone and would not require a voter-approved constitutional amendment.

“Now I call it the Wild West,” Albritton said. “My goal is to put Alabama in control. We have it here. Now we have to find a way to live with it, control it and profit from it.

The full gambling bill, as a constitutional amendment, requires a three-fifths vote in both the House and the Senate. He would then be placed on the November ballot.