No casinos, no bingo — just a lottery
By Kate Northrop
Immediately after a gambling bill was shot down this week in the Alabama Senate, another Senator proposed a new bill that focuses solely on creating a state lottery.
Senator Del Marsh originally proposed a bill that would legalize gambling in Alabama and pave the way for several casinos, a state lottery, and several other forms of gaming. After lawmakers were unable to rally enough votes to pass it, Senator Jim McClendon put forward a new bill that shifts the focus away from gambling in general and specifically toward implementing a statewide lottery.
Marsh's gambling bill may have received a majority of votes to pass, 19-13, but the bill needed at least 21. Senate Majority Leader Clay Scofield, who dissented in the vote, said that the complexity of the bill meant that it was doomed from the start.
"That's the way I told them it would go down," Scofield told The Reporter. "The lottery portion of the bill wasn't an issue; it was the casino portion of the bill was a huge issue. That is what caused the bill to fail."
Before and after the vote on Marsh's gambling bill, Scofield recalled overwhelming support for a lottery but little interest in casino gaming. He was reportedly inundated with calls asking why he voted against a lottery in the end, but when he explained to constituents that the vote on casinos and a lottery were linked, most people understood his decision.
"My constituents — I've heard loud and clear they want a vote on the lottery, and I support that 100%," he said in an interview. "And I will vote to allow them to vote on a lottery... a good, clean lottery [bill] that when they go to the polls to cast their vote, they know exactly what they are voting for and where exactly that money is going to go."
Since the gambling bill's rejection in the Senate, Scofield said that at least six lottery-specific bills have been filed.
McClendon's new bill seems to simplify the steps toward legalized gambling in Alabama without trying to accomplish everything all at once. It makes no mention of Poarch Creek Indians, proposed casino locations, or bingo.
"It's not talking about any of these things," McClendon said on Mobile radio's FM Talk 106.5. "It's not affecting anybody that's out there doing whatever they're doing. All it does is it creates a lottery for Alabama, just like every state around us has. We may be up to 46 states now — I'm not sure, I kind of lost count — that have lotteries, and we're the oddball. So, I've come with a lottery proposal, and we'll see what happens with that."
The bill details a plan to set up a lottery commission that would oversee multi-state games like Mega Millions and Powerball in addition to Alabama's own lottery. McClendon suggested evenly splitting net revenue between the Education Trust Fund and the General Fund.
It's also not the first time McClendon proposed lottery legislation. In 2016, he proposed a similar bill that placed emphasis on a state lottery and not bingo or casino gambling. The plan allowed for electronic lottery terminals — devices similar to slot machines — that would have raised an estimated $127 million in revenue a year, with proceeds from a statewide and Powerball lottery adding anywhere from $285 million to $310 million a year into state coffers.
That bill was killed about a week after it was proposed. McClendon admitted that even the electronic lottery machines in the legislation made his bill more complicated than others since it was unclear how they would impact the Poarch Creek Indians and their own gambling establishments.
Based on polling and conversations he's had with people outside the State House, the Senator is confident that his current bill's narrowed focus will give the implementation of a state lottery a fighting chance. He said that, while it is unclear how the Poarch Creek Indians would legally respond to a new statewide lottery, he argues that the Alabamians' overwhelming support for a lottery would help it prevail.
"Here's what I do know — the people back in my district, I never hear them talk about the Indians," McClendon remarked. "And one thing they never ask about and say, 'I wish we had a casino.' They don't say that. What they say to me is, 'I wish I could buy a lottery ticket without going to Georgia.'"