Alabama senator launches latest gambling effort

Sen. Albritton unveils legislation to create lottery, casinos and sports betting
Published: Mar. 3, 2022 at 2:36 PM CST
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Brushing aside concerns that it is too late in the legislative session, Sen. Greg Albritton (R-Atmore) unveiled his latest effort to bring gambling to Alabama.

Albritton is sponsoring two bills, one that would put a constitutional amendment on the ballot to authorize gambling and enabling legislation that could create a statewide gaming commission to regulation.

The legislation is similar in many respects to bills that failed last years.

“It’s been argued that it’s too late in the session and that this is an election year and that we shouldn’t be doing this now. It’s too hard to do it,” he said a news conference in Montgomery. “We, as legislators, if we came here to do the easier jobs, then we need to have another job, all right? We need to take on those tough things that the state requires. This is one thing that requires the state’s attention, and we need to take action on this now.”

Two key differences from last year’s failed legislative effort are limits on the number of gambling machines and a provision allowing for smaller “satellite” gambling locations affiliated with larger casinos. The state would authorize up to five casinos, not including three run by PCI Gaming, an arm of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.

The four existing dog tracks, including Mobile Greyhound Park in Theodore, would get the right to match any bid for one of the licenses. But, ultimately, another operator could outbid them.

The proposal also would create a statewide lottery and authorize sports betting. Albritton estimates that total revenue from all forms of gambling would be $750 million to $800 million a year. But he added that given New York State’s recent experience with newly authorized sports betting, it could be even higher.

A 20 percent tax on net revenue from casinos and sports betting would be divided between the state’s General Fund and the local governments where the gambling operations were located. The state’s share would be used for:

  • Long-term mental health care facilities and providers.
  • Statewide expansion of high-speed internet.
  • Rural health care services, including telemedicine.
  • Grand programs for the improvement of roads and bridges.
  • Prison maintenance and improvement.
  • Development and improvement of state parks and historical sites.

Some 99 percent of the revenue from a lottery – estimated at between $160 million and $225 million a year – would fund scholarships. Albritton said that would include both traditional colleges and technical programs.

The Alabama Track Owners Association has aired ads statewide since the end of last year promoting gambling. The organization’s spokesman, Robert Kennedy Jr., said the current legislation marks progress.

“This methodology, where you have, call it full licenses and satellite licenses, is a methodology that has been used in other states, as well,” he said. “And we believe that is a good compromise solution to kind of get us back in the game.”

Albritton said the gaming commission, if approved by the Legislature, could be up and running even before voters weigh in on the new gaming authorization when they vote on the constitutional amendment in November. He said the commission could get right to work regulating and taxing the gambling that already exists.

“We need to do this right away,” he said. “We need to take control of the fantasy gaming, of the online gaming, of the sports gaming.”

Albritton said he believes there is widespread support across the state and within the Legislature.

“We have the votes. I believe, in the House,” he said. “We have the votes in the Senate. We’ve got to give it a hearing.”

Kennedy said he hopes the Legislature does not put off the issue for another year.

“Even if we wait until the next regular legislative session in 2023, none of the factors will have changed,” he said.

He added: “Ultimately, it’s going to be what the House wants to do,” he said.

Updated at 5:44 p.m. with additional information about the legislation and reaction from the Alabama Track Owners Association.