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Alabama Senator Casts Vote Against Gambling Expansion

The article explores the complexities surrounding the recent failure of gambling expansion efforts in Alabama, focusing on Senator Greg Albritton's decisive vote against the legislation. Key points include the exclusion of tribal participation, the lack of comprehensive regulation, and the uncertain future of gambling laws in the state.
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Alabama Flag

Branimir Ivanov | Senior News Contributor

Updated: May 16, 2024

ALABAMA'S STRUGGLE

 

Alabama's legislative session this year has seen a tumultuous battle over gambling expansion, culminating in a surprising turn of events as Senator Greg Albritton, the leading advocate for regulation, ended up casting the deciding vote against the legislation. This decision has left many observers questioning the future of gambling laws in the state.

The proposed legislation, House Bill 151 (HB151) and House Bill 152 (HB152), aimed to regulate various aspects of gambling, including a state lottery, electronic casino games at commercial facilities, and a compact with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians (PCI) for Class III gaming. However, the bills failed to gain the necessary support in the Senate, falling short by a single vote. Senator Albritton, who had been instrumental in drafting the legislation, explained his vote against it, stating that the final compromise went too far by excluding PCI from participation in the industry and omitting provisions for sports betting and online gaming.

 

Key Points

  • Tribal Exclusion: The legislation failed due to its exclusion of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians (PCI), preventing them from participating in expanded gambling markets, particularly in the northeast part of the state.
  • Regulatory Gaps: The proposed laws lacked provisions for sports betting and online gaming, leaving significant gaps in comprehensive regulation according to Senator Albritton.
  • Uncertain Future: The failure of the gambling expansion efforts has left Alabama's gambling laws in limbo, with the timing and nature of future attempts at regulation remaining uncertain.

 

“When they went down the direction of putting slot machines in seven casinos and not allowing PCI to have any participation in the industry, then kept sports betting and online gaming completely out of the legislation, that went too far for me to support the compromise,” Albritton stated.

The exclusion of PCI, the largest constituent in Albritton's district, was a critical factor in his decision. PCI operates Class II gaming based on electronic bingo in three facilities on tribal lands.

Stephanie Bryan, Chairwoman of PCI, expressed gratitude towards Albritton for his support, emphasizing his commitment to representing both the state and the tribe's interests. She credited his vote for defeating the bills, stating, “He let the people know that he was really looking out for the best interest of the state and who he represents.”

The legislative effort began in the House, led by Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter, aiming to regulate the growing illegal gambling industry in Alabama. The proposed legislation sought to address this by legalizing various forms of gambling and generating revenue for enforcement.

However, the final version of the bills faced significant opposition, particularly from PCI, which sought to have a more inclusive approach to the legislation. The tribe's main contention was the lack of opportunity to participate in the expansion, especially in the northeast part of the state.

Despite efforts to work with the House on the expansion, PCI found the final language of the legislation unsatisfactory, as it allowed commercial facilities to expand gaming options without including the tribe.

Robert McGhee, Vice Chair of PCI, pointed out the flaws in the proposed legislation, highlighting the economic unviability for the state without PCI's involvement. He argued that without a revenue-sharing compact, the state would receive no financial benefit from Class III gaming.

Moreover, concerns were raised about the scope of sports betting and online gaming in the final legislation. While the bills allowed for sports betting at tribal locations, the tribe feared that it could be interpreted to permit sports betting elsewhere in the state.

Looking ahead, Albritton advocated for a comprehensive approach to gambling regulation, including online casino gaming. He emphasized the importance of regulation and enforcement in controlling the industry, particularly online gambling, which he views as a growing concern.

Despite the setback in this legislative session, both lawmakers and tribal representatives remain uncertain about the future of gambling expansion in Alabama. While some anticipate a delay of several years before another attempt is made, others believe that a groundswell of demand might prompt a sooner reconsideration.

However, consensus remains elusive on the way forward. Albritton lamented the current state of affairs, expressing frustration at the lack of progress towards achieving parity and control in gambling regulation.

The failure of this year's gambling expansion efforts in Alabama underscores the complexities and challenges associated with regulating a controversial industry in a state with diverse interests and stakeholders. As the debate continues, the future of gambling legislation in Alabama remains uncertain.

One of the key issues in the legislative process was the competing interests of various stakeholders. The Poarch Band of Creek Indians, which operates gaming facilities in Alabama, sought to ensure that the final legislation did not exclude them from participating in the expanded gambling market. Stephanie Bryan, Chairwoman of PCI, explained that their main concern was the language of the bill, which prevented them from opening new casinos in areas outside their tribal lands.

“We simply told them we want to work with you on what's good for the tribe and what's good for the state. Could you just put in that legislative language for the House version, the last and final bid with an Alabama operator?” Bryan said.

However, the final bill did not address the tribe's concerns adequately, leading to their opposition to the legislation. Robert McGhee, Vice Chair of PCI, highlighted the economic implications of excluding the tribe from the expansion, arguing that it would make the proposed legislation economically unviable for the state.

“What the Senate did frankly was make the bill economically unviable. It was not enough money to fund an enforcement arm nor do any of the other good for the state except the Education Trust Fund, which is full of money,” Albritton commented.

The debate also centered on the scope of gambling activities allowed under the proposed legislation. While the bills included provisions for electronic casino games and sports betting, they did not address online gaming, which Senator Albritton sees as a crucial aspect of regulating the industry.

“Without regulation and enforcement, the problem isn't really the unregulated physical gaming in the state. It lies in sports gaming and online gaming. That's where the growth of this industry is,” Albritton emphasized.

Overall, the failure of the gambling expansion efforts in Alabama reflects the challenges of navigating a complex and contentious issue in the legislative process. As lawmakers and stakeholders regroup, the future of gambling regulation in Alabama remains uncertain, with diverging opinions on the best path forward.

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