The Alabama House of Representatives narrowly approved Gov. Robert Bentley's proposed state lottery Thursday night after 10 hours of contentious debate and two vote attempts.
Legislators clapped and cheered as the bill passed shortly before midnight on a 64-35 vote, exceeding the 63 votes required to pass the chamber. The bill now moves to the Alabama Senate where senators must decide whether to go along with mostly minor House changes to the legislation.
The Republican governor, seeking to end the Deep South state's historic opposition to gambling as a revenue source, proposed a lottery as a way to provide money to the state's perpetually cash-strapped Medicaid program. Alabama would become the 45th state with a lottery if lawmakers and voters approve the idea.
The House has changed the bill that passed the Senate, and the two chambers will have to reconcile the differences.
If the bill does clear the Legislature, voters would have their say on the proposed constitutional amendment.
Secretary of State John Merrill, the state's top election official, says it's too late to get the proposal on the ballot for the Nov. 8 general election.
Lawmakers sponsoring the lottery bill say they believe the deadline is midnight Friday.
On a procedural vote, the House earlier voted 78-21 to adopt the bill as approved by a House committee on Wednesday.
While not necessarily an indication of the bill's support, that vote did at least keep the process on track.
The House sorted through a series of proposed amendments, rejecting most.
Bentley has said a lottery would raise an estimated $225 million a year in net proceeds, although some legislators have said that estimate is too high and the Legislative Fiscal Office has not attached an estimate to the bill.
The bill would apply 90 percent of net lottery proceeds to the state General Fund and 10 percent to the Education Trust Fund.
Of the General Fund appropriation, the first $100 million would go to the Alabama Medicaid Agency, the largest consumer of General Fund dollars.
The House approved an amendment designating 1 percent of the General Fund lottery proceeds to volunteer fire departments.
It also approved an amendment saying that the lottery would automatically shut down if it fails to remain self-sustaining.
Rep. John Rogers, D-Birmingham, proposed an amendment that would have boosted the share of proceeds going to education from 10 percent to 30 percent.
Rogers said voters would not support a lottery that did not put more money into education.
But the amendment failed, as the House voted to table it 54-34.