Apr 4, 2019, 10:45 am
The push for an Alabama lottery is now a competition.
Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Range, filed a lottery bill this week that would establish a state lottery and limit it to paper-based games — a move that has drawn opposition in the past from senators who say it could give a major gambling entity in Alabama a unique advantage over others.
"It's a simple lottery," Albritton said on Wednesday afternoon. "It gives people the right to vote as to whether to have a lottery or not. Straight paper lottery. That's it."
The bill will be in a Senate committee Thursday morning, along with other proposals filed by Sen. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, who has filed a bill that would give the state's four dog tracks access to the same gaming machines that the federally recognized Poarch Band of Creek Indians, who operate casinos in Atmore, Montgomery, and Wetumpka could obtain if a lottery came to Alabama.
McClendon said in a phone interview Wednesday that the provision could help restore jobs at places like VictoryLand in Macon County, which shed employees in the face of raids.
"Once we get my bill through, owners and operators will get the confidence to open tomorrow and next week and next year, there's going to be job opportunities for Alabamians," he said.
The paper-based game language has sunk previous efforts at bringing a lottery to the state. In 2016, an amendment to a lottery amendment turned Senate Democrats who had supported the measure against it. Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, whose district includes GreeneTrack in Greene County, said making the game paper-based would prevent dog tracks like GreeneTrack from installing video lottery terminals (VLTs).
But, he said, federal law considers lotteries Class III gaming, a category that includes slot machines and table games. Singleton said the Poarch Band, who operate under federal law, would have access to the machines.
"The reality is a lottery is a Class III game," Singleton said. "If we allow Class III gaming they will go full casino, as opposed to bingo," Singleton said.
Robert McGhee, the director of government relations for the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, said he hadn't looked at all Albritton's bill in detail, but said it would give "the people of Alabama what they want," an opportunity to vote on a lottery.
"The point is you still have to have a negotiated compact with the state," he said. "We do not operate outside of a compact."
Albritton's district includes Atmore, where the Poarch Band operate Wind Creek Casino.
"I speak to my constituents, the Poarch Band included, about this particular bill," he said, adding that "I haven't gotten a yes or a no."
Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said there will be a public hearing Thursday morning but no vote. McClendon said he expects a vote on both bills on Wednesday. Marsh had expressed doubts about McClendon's legislation, and seemed supportive of McClendon's legislation.
"I take it to be the most straight, simple lottery bill there is," Marsh said. "If that's the case, I think it's the one with the best case to get out of the legislature."
Both bills are constitutional amendments, which would need to be approved by voters if they pass the Alabama Legislature.
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