Update: Committee approves both bills, sends to full Senate
Bills to call for a constitutional amendment to establish a state lottery were debated this morning in an Alabama Senate committee.
The Senate Tourism and Marketing Committee held a public hearing on the second day of the special legislative session.
The committee plans to meet again this afternoon and take votes on the bills.
At the public hearing, several people spoke in opposition to a lottery and other forms of gambling, including Joe Godfrey, executive director of the faith-based lobbying organization Alabama Citizens Action Program, attorney Eric Johnston and pastor Mark Gidley of Etowah County.
Godfrey, a longtime opponent of gambling legislation, said a state lottery would hurt lower-income people who tend to play the lottery.
He said tax revenues would decline because money spent on lottery tickets would otherwise have been spent on other products.
"The state is encouraging its own citizens to throw away their money on things that will not have a return," Godfrey told the committee.
Mac McArthur, executive director of the Alabama State Employees Association, spoke in support of a lottery.
McArthur said the state faces a crisis in funding for Medicaid. He said the Legislature has mostly rejected calls for tax increases and moving money from education. He noted that Gov. Robert Bentley, who a year ago said lotteries were as old-fashioned as leisure suits, now says a lottery is a viable option.
"It may be out of date, it may be the wrong color and it may be out of style but it may be the only answer to address the problem," McArthur said.
Sen. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, is carrying Bentley's bill, which would establish a state lottery to provide money for the General Fund.
McClendon is sponsoring a second lottery bill that would also allow video lottery terminals at the state's four greyhound tracks.
McClendon's second bill also differs from the governor's in that it would divide revenue between the General Fund and Education Trust Fund, and that it calls for a bond issue to help fund Medicaid and for the governor to negotiate a gaming compact with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.
The committee is considering three other gambling bills, including another involving the Poarch Creeks, who operate electronic bingo casinos in Atmore, Montgomery and Wetumpka.
A bill by Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Range, is a proposed constitutional amendment that would require the governor to negotiate a gaming compact with the tribe.
The proposal would allow the Poarch Creeks to have Class III gambling, which includes slot machines and table games like blackjack and craps. Electronic bingo is Class II.
The state would get a share of revenue from the expanded gambling at the tribe's casinos.
Robert McGhee, vice chairman of the Poarch Creeks, said the tribe supports Albritton's bill.
McGhee said the Poarch Creeks have been willing for more than a quarter century to help with state finances.
"There is still some time to seize the day," McGhee said. "We believe (Albritton's bill) gives Alabama an opportunity to be financially secure today, tomorrow and for the foreseeable future."
McGhee said the Poarch Creeks oppose McClendon's bill because it would not allow Class III gaming and would offer no benefit for the tribe.
Also pending in the Senate committee are lottery bills by Sen. Paul Sanford, R-Huntsville and Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham.
Sanford's bill is a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow the state to enter multi-state games, like Powerball, but not establish an Alabama lottery.
Update: Committee approves both bills
The Senate Tourism and Marketing Committee on Tuesday afternoon approved both competing lottery bills. Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh said the bills were a work in progress and he wanted a vehicle for negotiations on the Senate floor.
Republican Sen. Jim McClendon is the sponsor of both bills. One bill backed by Gov. Robert Bentley would authorize a state lottery. The other also would allow electronic lottery terminals, which can resemble slot machines, at four state dog tracks.
The Senate could vote on the bills as soon as Wednesday.
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