MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The Alabama Senate on Tuesday night approved a sweeping lottery and casino legislation as lawmakers, reaching a compromise on gambling proposals after years of stalemates.
Senators voted 23-9 for the proposed constitutional amendment that would establish a state lottery as well as allow nine casino sites in the states. The bill now moves to the Alabama House of Representatives. There would be casinos in six counties plus at the three tribal properties belonging to the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. If approved by lawmakers in both chambers, the proposal would then go before voters.
"What we are really okaying is the right for our constituents to come to the voting booth and decide if they like this or not," Republican Sen. Jim McClendon, the sponsor of the bill, said at the beginning of debate.
The bill is similar to a bill that failed by two votes earlier this session, but includes new provisions such as putting the casino licenses up for bid.
Casino and sports betting sites would be located in Jefferson County, Mobile County, Macon County, Greene County, Houston County and either Jackson or DeKalb counties as well at the three sites owned by Poarch Band of Creek Indians.
The casino licenses would be put out for bid. Most of the sites are locations of dog tracks and current electronic bingo operations that would be given an advantage in trying to win the bid. The existing operators will be given the opportunity to make a final bid exceeding the highest bidder to win the license in their respective county.
The Poarch Creeks will have the right for the final bid for the north Alabama site in either Jackson or DeKalb counties.
Under the bill, lottery proceeds would be used for education purposes, including a college scholarship program. The state would place a 20% tax on net casino and sports betting revenue.
The debate came after two other gambling bills stalled. A casino proposal failed by two votes earlier this session and McClendon delayed a vote on a lottery bill, that did not include casinos, after saying he did not have the votes to break an expected filibuster.
Sen. Greg Albritton said lawmakers have tried to reach a compromise on the legislation.
"The road and the path that we've had to get to this point of having this bill before us has been a difficult and tortuous one," Albritton said.
Alabama is one of five states without a state lottery. Alabama voters in 1999 rejected then-Gov. Don Siegelman's proposed state lottery, but lawmakers in both parties say they believe voters are now more welcoming to the idea.