Published: March 27, 2022

Will they or won't they? Alabama legislators face decision on lottery, gambling votes

Alabama gambling bills demonstrate the Heisenberg uncertainty principle: the better you understand their position, the less you understand their momentum. 

"Pardon the pun, but I would not bet on anything when it comes to gambling or a lottery," said Sen. Will Barfoot, R-Pike Road, on Friday. "You just never know. It can look like it’s dead and then pick up traction." 


And with just seven full days left in the 2022 session, advocates of the gambling bills will have to engage in four-dimensional thinking, determining the breadth and depth of support as time runs out. 

The issue should come up at meetings of the House and Senate GOP caucuses on Tuesday, before the chambers gavel in. The decisions of the Republican supermajority there will be critical to the issue in the Legislature. 

Two packages are pending. One, sponsored by Rep. Chip Brown, R-Hollingers Island, would establish a state lottery and use the proceeds for college scholarships, college debt relief and bonuses for retired employees. Another bill, sponsored by Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Atmore, would establish a lottery; five casinos; two "satellite casinos," and sports betting in the state, with the proceeds going to postsecondary education. 


Both measures would be constitutional amendments, requiring the approval of two-thirds of the chambers and then voter approval. The Legislature last approved a lottery bill in 1999, which voters rejected later that year. Subsequent attempts to get legislation out have stalled amid a cold war between established gambling interests in the state and divisions among Republicans in the Legislature, particularly in the House. 

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Related:Lottery and gambling suddenly hovering over end of Alabama legislative session

Each package faces obstacles. Albritton's bill has to confront House Republicans' traditional skepticism about casino gaming. House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, has never been enthusiastic about the Senate package. Albritton, in turn, doesn't think Brown's lottery-only approach can make it through the Senate. 

"It creates another body of law that would probably be in conflict with the other 20 constitutional amendments that are out there," he said on Friday. "It confuses the law, it expands gaming, it doesn’t satisfy any of Alabama's needs right now." 


Brown said Friday afternoon that he hoped to have a vote on the bill next week, and said he thinks he has the votes to pass it.

"I’m pretty confident," he said. "We look good right now." 

Both Albritton and House Ways and Means General Fund chair Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, also said they expect an attempt to bring the lottery-only bill to the floor next week, if only because of the shrinking window to pass legislation. 

"I would think we're in for some long days, is what I think," Clouse said. 

Passing the bill means complicated math. Rep. Reed Ingram, R-Pike Road, said Friday he would vote against Brown's bill in its current form. Ingram said he wants to see all the education funding in Brown's proposal go to debt relief for college graduates who choose to work in Alabama. Brown's bill does put money toward that, but it also allocates funds for scholarships for two and four-year college students. 


Ingram was pessimistic about the chances of Brown's bill passing, saying he thought there should have been more collaboration with the Republican caucus. He predicted filibusters from Republican opponents of the measure if it came to the floor.

"If they do try to push it, I think it divides our caucus, and that’s one thing we don’t need," he said. "We’re looking at the speaker, we’re looking at the people in leadership we're electing the next quadrennium. In my opinion, it's in our best interest to set it aside." 

More:Alabama House erupts in anger, chaos, confusion during late-night battle over gambling bill

Putting gambling out for a vote also means less time for other pieces of legislation. Lottery fights can be intense and time-consuming: a comprehensive gambling bill passed by the Senate last year after months of negotiations fell apart last May after day-long negotiations in the House and a failed attempt by House Republicans to turn it into a lottery-only bill. 


Republican gambling supporters have needed help from House Democrats to pass their bills in the past, but House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville, said Friday they should not count on that. Democrats throughout the session have criticized House leadership for bringing agendas without what they felt was appropriate notice, and Daniels said a lottery and gambling bill would need Democratic input to win his support. 

"Don’t need me or want my help after you've baked the cake," he said. "We’re not going to operate like that."

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