Legislative session ends without consensus on lottery bill
By Kate Northrop
Alabama residents hoping to get a state lottery will have to wait even longer since the 2021 legislative session ended before lawmakers could agree on the particulars of a gaming bill.
Legislators seem to agree on enacting a state lottery for a variety of reasons, which include tightening up unregulated gambling and finding new sources of funding for public programs. However, lawmakers could not reach an agreement on wording specifics, casino locations, and where funding would go.
To cover wider gaming interests in the state, the lottery bill also brought in the topic of casinos. The bill passed in the Senate but died in the House.
While the bill received support from both Democrats and Republicans, there were some Republicans who resolutely maintained a stance against any sort of gambling bill. On the other hand, the Democratic Caucus noted specific changes that needed to be made to the bill in order for them to support it.
"The Democratic Caucus, in conjunction with the Black Caucus, of course wanted a designated funding for Medicaid," Representative Merika Coleman told ABC 33/40. "That was one of the asks on the list, in addition to the locations and making sure we are not the entity picking winners and losers."
Coleman clarified that a big part of the disagreement came from the quantity and locations of proposed casinos, as well as the bill's specific language involving minority participation for contractors in gaming.
According to Representative Kyle South, the expansion of funds for Medicaid was a big talking point in discussions, too large of a topic for lawmakers to reach a consensus on before the legislation period ended.
"There's disagreements on how that could be worded," South said. "Obviously, there has been an emphasis on healthcare around the state due to COVID, but even prior to then. We want to make sure those funds are available for those services both rural and urban, while not tying our hands to one specific sets of funds, for funding mechanism."
South wanted voters in support of a lottery to know that he understands their frustrations.
"I'm just as frustrated as they are because I do want to see us get to a point where we're leaving money on the table," he admitted. "There's gaming already in the state of Alabama. It's totally unregulated, untaxed, and a lot of this is to control gaming."
Over the past week, legislators held multiple meetings to reach a compromise, but to no avail.
"Generally, these were discussions that would have been going on between the House and Senate, but then when you throw in the governor's office also wanting to play in this as well," Coleman explained. "So, now you have these three entities coming together, and we literally ran out of time."
Although the legislative session has concluded for the year, Coleman remarked that she would like to see a special session dedicated to continuing the lottery and gaming discussion in Alabama.