Alabama Senate Republicans appear divided over gambling bill

Senators work in the chamber of the Alabama Senate on Feb. 20 in Montgomery. / Alabama Reflector photo by Brian Lyman
Senators work in the chamber of the Alabama Senate on Feb. 20 in Montgomery. / Alabama Reflector photo by Brian Lyman

A gambling package passed by the Alabama House last month appears stalled in the Alabama Senate amid strong opposition from some senators.

It's still not clear what proposal, if any, can win the support of the Republican caucus, but senators on both sides are expecting changes.

Alabama Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, a longtime proponent of legalized gambling whose district includes facilities offering electronic bingo, told reporters Thursday that while he liked the House's version of the bill, he expects a new draft.

"What we need to do is just to come up with something where everybody's included," he said. "I have not read what it is, but I do understand that it may be something coming on Tuesday."

  photo  Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, speaks during an Alabama Senate debate Thursday at the Alabama Statehouse in Montgomery. Singleton is a longtime proponent of legalized gambling. / Alabama Reflector photo by Brian Lyman

The Alabama House on Feb. 15 approved a comprehensive gambling package that would create a lottery and authorize casinos in up to seven designated locations, as well as sports betting. The legislation would also create a state gaming commission and direct Gov. Kay Ivey to negotiate a compact with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, a federally-recognized Indian tribe that operates casinos in Atmore, Montgomery and Wetumpka.

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The package includes a constitutional amendment, as Alabama's state constitution bans lotteries and games of chance. Should the Legislature approve the package, voters will decide whether to authorize it at a future election.

Supporters of the bill said it could bring up to $1.2 billion a year to the state. Money from the lottery would be allocated to education programs, and money from casinos and sports wagering could go to a variety of state programs. The Legislature would have broad discretion on where to put the funding.

Since leaving the House, the gambling bills appear to have been locked in closed-door negotiations. Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Atmore, who is carrying the House bills in the Senate, told reporters Wednesday there had been two substitutes offered for the bill that he had not seen.

"All I know is yesterday they came forward with one sheet of paper with concepts," Albritton told reporters after the meeting Wednesday. "I never got the sub. Then last night I was informed at 8:20 p.m. that there was another sub being worked on."

Albritton said he had called the Wednesday committee meeting but ultimately decided not to call for a vote after confusion among senators.

Singleton said he has not been in on conversations, but he did meet with the people "in the room." He said "a lot of people who are in the room really don't understand the process."

An official with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians said Wednesday the Poarch Band wanted the bill to include a timeline for the negotiation of a compact and to give the tribe the ability to make a final bid on any casino property.

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On the Republican side, Sen. Sam Givhan, R-Huntsville, said Thursday he is "100% committed to killing the package that came up from the House."

  photo  Sen. Sam Givhan, R-Huntsville, speaks to a colleague in 2023. Givhan is opposed to a House bill on legalized gambling, saying he prefers a more limited bill. / Alabama Reflector photo by Brian Lyman


Givhan said the House bills do not have the votes in the Senate. He said he prefers a more limited bill that would create a lottery, improve enforcement of gambling laws, keep local constitutional amendments that allow gambling and allow the governor the authority to enter in a compact if she chooses.

A message was left Thursday with Rep. Andy Whitt, R-Harvest, one of the co-sponsors of the House legislation. An attempt to reach Rep. Chris Blackshear, R-Smiths Station, the other co-sponsor, was not immediately successful on Thursday afternoon.

The House GOP split over the gambling package, and any changes the Senate makes may need to satisfy House Democrats, who provided the votes to pass the legislation last month. House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville, said last month he would not support a gambling bill if lawmakers removed language that allowed the Legislature to spending casino and sports wagering money on "rural health programs." The wording uses some parameters resembling Medicaid expansion.

Republican legislative leaders were noncommittal about the gambling package Thursday. House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, said that he met with Whitt and Blackshear on Wednesday.

"We need to let the Senate do their work, and let the process work," he said. "I think they'll get something out. We'll see what it is and we'll go from there."

Senate President Pro Tem Greg Reed, R-Jasper, said in a statement Thursday that "members are interested in moving legislation forward, and we are going to continue listening to every voice to give Alabamians the best product possible."



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