State Sen. Chris Elliott (R-Daphne) helped kill a gambling bill five weeks ago. This week, he helped resurrect it.
Elliott and Sen. David Sessions (R-Grand Bay) were among a group of lawmakers that sent the effort crashing to the ground in March. But both voted “yes” on Tuesday as the bill cleared the Senate.
Elliott said he opposed the bill in March because he it guaranteed a casino for each of the state’s dog track owners. He said he and others pushed for the new bill to include a “free market” method for awarding the licenses.
The bill that passed this week allows outside companies to bid on the licenses, although the dog track owners will be able to exceed any offer.
“It’s not a completely free market,” Elliott conceded.
But the Baldwin County legislator told FOX10 News that he believes this is the “best deal for Alabama taxpayers” that could pass.
“It really is a compromise between the folks that had an existing investment, and those that are coming in and making another probably more significant investment,” he said.
The bill now faces an uncertain fate in the state House of Representatives, although Elliott and other lawmakers have expressed optimism that the proposal can garner the three-fifths majority necessary to send the constitutional amendment to the voters in the 2022 general election.
The bill would create a lottery for the first time in Alabama, legalized sports betting and allow for six casinos, including at Mobile Greyhound Park in Mobile. The state also would be required to negotiate a gambling compact with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.
The Mobile casino also would be required to be located on the dog track property. That means that if the dog track failed to win the bid, the winning bidder would have to lease that location for the casino.
If passed, the lottery and gambling expansion likely would generate hundreds of millions of dollars. The bill directs money to scholarships and loan forgiveness for students who pursue certain “high-demand” professions. It also would spend $1 billion on high-speed internet plus shower money on mental health programs.
Other money raised from gambling taxes would go to agriculture grants, and there would be funding for county and municipal governments that do not have casinos.
“This does provide a significant amount of revenue and a shot in the arm to do a lot of things that state’s previously not been able to do,” Elliott said. “While that’s not my prime focus, it is a side effect … and I think the money’s gonna be spent wisely.”