Published: August 19, 2023

Alabama ‘Ad hoc’ gambling committee to bring ’24 legislation

Rep. Andy Whitt, R-Harvest, says he’s recently purchased bogus scratch-off lottery tickets in multiple Alabama counties.

And on a day trip to one north Alabama county, he visited 12 illegal gambling sites with electronic bingo machines.

Over the last six months, Whitt said he’s traveled around much of the state to see what gambling operations — legal and illegal — exist. 

“I’ve concluded that it’s simply the wild west in Alabama when it comes to gaming,” Whitt told Alabama Daily News recently.

He and Rep. Chris Blackshear, R-Phenix City, are part of an informal group of House members studying what lottery and gambling legislation might, finally, pass their chamber. They’ve continued to work this summer with the goal of legislation early in the 2024 session.

Whitt previously said the ad hoc group came together to get a lottery constitutional amendment before voters. They’re also looking at regulating and taxing gambling in the state. 

“We don’t need to expand gambling, it’s already here,” Blackshear said about illegal sites around the state. Getting a grasp of how many of those exist is also a goal of the group.

“It’s unregulated, the state is getting no revenue from it and if we don’t get a handle on it now, we never will,” Blackshear said.

Blackshear said last week, an illegal casino was broken up in the back of a gas station in his home city.

Whitt said many of the illegal casinos he’s seen are fronted by retail space like thrift shops. 

“It’s simply organized crime and it’s going unchecked,” Whitt said. He said he’s found out about the illegal gaming sites from citizens who call him.

“They want this stuff cleaned up,” he said. 

Whitt said no draft legislation has been written yet, but it’s about time to put pen to paper and get it ready for the regular session. Both Whitt and Blackshear said they don’t expect a special session. 

“What does a comprehensive gaming bill look like? I think it’s like school choice — it could mean something different to anyone,” Whitt said.

He said the group has had only brief conversations with representatives from the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, who in previous versions of gambling legislation would have gotten to expand their casino operations, and other gaming interests.

“We want this legislation to be drafted by lawmakers, not special interests,” Whitt said.

After passing lottery and gambling bills in multiple years only to have them die in the House, Senate leadership has indicated the House has to move first on any new legislation.

If a bill does get through both chambers, Blackshear said they’d like to see a lottery constitutional amendment on the November 2024 ballot.

“We want the highest potential voter turnout to have a vote on this,” Blackshear said.

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