By KIM CHANDLER Associated Press
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A proposal to start a state lottery narrowly cleared its first major hurdle in the Alabama Legislature as senators gathered the minimum 21 votes needed Thursday to get the measure through the state Senate.
Senators voted 21-12 for the bill that would put the idea of starting a state lottery to a statewide vote next year. The bill now moves to the Alabama House. Republican Sen. Greg Albritton, sponsor of the legislation, said he was pleased with the outcome after early vote counts showed he was below the needed votes.
“I’m pleased, a little surprised and grateful it’s over,” Albritton said. Albritton said voters want to decide the issue of a lottery and “don’t understand why everyone else has one and we don’t.”
The legislation faced a mix of opposition from Republican senators who say they oppose a lottery on moral grounds and some Democrats who want protections for existing electronic gambling operations at state dog tracks.
“It preys on the poor,” said Sen. Dan Roberts, R-Birmingham. “This system is built on the necessity that most people lose.”
The proposed constitutional amendment would authorize a lottery played with paper tickets, including instant tickets and multi-state lottery games, and would prohibit video lottery terminals which can resemble slot machines. Senators added an amendment to allow electronic tickets for non-instant lottery games.
Alabama voters would have to approve any lottery measure because it would require a change in the state constitution. If approved by the House and Senate, the proposal would go before voters on March 3, 2020, the same day as the presidential and U.S. Senate primaries.
Alabama is one of five states — along with Utah, Alaska, Hawaii, and Nevada — without a state lottery.
The Legislative Service Agency, which estimates how much revenue bills will generate, predicted a paper lottery would produce $166.7 million annually. The proceeds would go the state general fund and various state savings accounts.
The debate re-ignited longstanding turf wars over electronic gambling. A rival proposal that would have allowed video lottery terminals at state dog tracks did not receive a committee vote.
Senators stripped a committee amendment by Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, that would have excluded electronic bingo from the definition of video lottery terminal.
Singleton said he was trying to prohibit the paper ticket requirement from being used to shut down the electronic bingo operations. Poarch Band Tribal Vice Chairman said there were concerns that the amendment would allow electronic bingo legalized “throughout the entire state” because it is a statewide constitutional amendment.
“I’m so damn tired of them talking about what they don’t like … They don’t want the competition,” Singleton said of the tribe.
Senators did approve an amendment by Sen. Linda Coleman Madison, D-Birmingham, that specified that the lottery amendment language would not prohibit charity bingo that had been authorized before 2005 by earlier constitutional amendments.
Senate President Del Marsh said he believes the Senate-passed legislation has a good chance of securing final approval.
“It’s a fairly clean bill. It’s dealing strictly with the lottery. I think it has a very good chance in the House. I think the danger is if you try to pile anything on top of it,” Marsh said.
Alabama voters last went to the polls on the idea of a lottery in 1999, when they rejected a lottery proposed by then-Gov. Don Siegelman. Former Gov. Robert Bentley called in 2016 for a state lottery in response to a state budget crisis, but the measure failed to get out of the Legislature.