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Alabama House Nears Decision on Sweeping Gambling Expansion

The Alabama House prepares for a pivotal vote on sweeping gambling expansion measures, including sports betting, casinos, and a lottery. Proponents cite potential economic benefits, while opposition persists.
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Branimir Ivanov | Senior News Contributor

Updated: Mar 2, 2024

Alabama House Nears Decision on Sweeping Gambling Expansion

The Alabama House of Representatives is on the verge of a monumental decision that could reshape the state's gaming landscape. Sweeping legislation aiming to legalize sports betting, casinos, and a state lottery may soon become reality, with the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee expected to vote on the bills as early as Wednesday, paving the way for a potential House floor vote on Thursday.

Representative Andy Whitt, chair of the committee, revealed to PlayUSA that he anticipates swift progress for the gambling bills under consideration. In an interview, Whitt outlined his timeline, expressing confidence in advancing the legislation to the Senate pending successful House approval.

 

The Alabama Adventure

 During an extensive hour-long hearing on Tuesday, Whitt presided over discussions on HB 151 and HB 152, with testimonies both in favor and against the proposed legislation being heard. While minor adjustments are expected before the bills proceed out of committee, Whitt downplayed the need for significant revisions, stating that only technical amendments would likely be made.

However, gaining the endorsement of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians (PCI), a major gaming stakeholder in the state, may necessitate more substantial alterations. Whitt acknowledged the importance of securing the support of PCI and indicated a willingness to accommodate their concerns.

The proposed legislation, encompassed in HB 151 and HB 152, holds significant implications for Alabama's gaming industry. If approved, it would amend the state constitution to authorize a state lottery, casino-style games, and sports wagering, contingent upon voter approval in the November election.

 

The Bills aim to:

  • Establish the Alabama Gaming Commission and Alabama Lottery Corp.
  • Permit up to 10 casinos, six of which would undergo a competitive bidding process.
  • Impose a 15-year term for initial casino licenses, extendable at the discretion of the commission for substantial investments.
  • Mandate commencement of construction within 12 months of license acquisition.
  • Allocate six competitive bid casino licenses to designated counties.
  • Introduce a 24% tax rate on casino gaming.
  • Mandate negotiations for a Class III gaming compact with PCI.

 

The Next Steps

Alabama State Treasurer Young Boozer voiced support for the legislation, citing the potential economic benefits and echoing findings from a 2020 study group on gambling policy convened by Governor Kay Ivey. The proposed sports betting provisions delineate separate licenses for retail and online operations, with each casino eligible to apply for a brick-and-mortar license. Notably, the legislation accommodates Talladega Superspeedway with provisions for temporary sports wagering licenses during events.

Proponents of the expansion argue that it could generate upwards of $1 billion annually for the state, citing estimates from the Alabama Legislative Services Agency. Revenue projections encompass contributions from commercial casinos, the lottery, tribal gaming compacts, and sports betting.

 

“Last year, there were 2 million attempts to place a legal bet here in Alabama… And when those users were blocked from betting in a legal market, they either drove to Tennessee, Mississippi, or Florida, where sports betting is legal, or they simply switched to one of the illegal offshore sites that's already available on their phone.”

 

Concluding Thoughts

Despite the potential windfall, opposition to the bills remains entrenched. The Poarch Band of Creek Indians, despite standing to benefit from expanded gaming options, has expressed reservations about the current proposals. Committee chairman Andy Whitt confronted one of the staunchest opponents, the Alabama Farmers Federation, highlighting perceived inconsistencies in their stance against gambling.

In a compelling testimony, FanDuel President Christian Genetski emphasized not only the professional significance but also his personal connection to Alabama, underscoring the widespread demand for legal sports betting within the state.

As Alabama stands on the brink of a historic decision regarding its gambling landscape, the outcome of the legislative deliberations will undoubtedly reverberate across the state's economy and society, shaping its future trajectory in the realm of gaming and beyond.

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