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Alabama Senate passes toned-down version of gambling legislation

On Thursday, the Alabama Senate passed a compromise gambling bill that is significantly different from the bill that passed the House last month.

Sen. Greg Albritton (R-Atmore) passed the bill in the Senate.

Mr Albritton insisted the public wanted the opportunity to vote on gambling legislation.

“They want the opportunity to vote on it,” Albritton said. “They want the opportunity to vote yes or no.”

The Alabama House of Representatives passes a bill that includes up to 10 Class III casinos, sports betting, an agreement with the Poe Arch Creek Band of Indians (PCI), electronic gambling, and a lottery, dramatically increasing the prevalence of legal gambling across the state. will increase. .

RELATED: Alabama Senate committee passes gambling bill without casinos or sports betting

On Tuesday, the Senate Tourism Committee replaced the House version of the bill with a dramatically different bill that would outlaw electronic bingo and ban Class III casinos, sports betting and electronic gambling. The agreed-upon committee alternative would generate $300 million to $350 million, while the House's original bill would generate $1 billion to $1.2 billion.

“The House outdid us,” Sen. Roger Smitherman (D-Birmingham) said of the changes in the bill. “They understand that. For some reason it doesn't get featured here.”

Albritton said the House bill, if passed, would give lawmakers more than $1 billion in spending each year. Albritton compared this to the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding the state has received from the federal government over the past two years.

“It would have been like receiving an ARPA check every year,” Albritton said.

“I don't want to participate in stripping something away and telling them to take it or otherwise,” Smitherman said.

RELATED: Alabama House pushes for legal gaming, educational lottery, statewide voting

According to the Alternative Bill Summary, “Pursuant to Section 65 of the 2022 Alabama Constitution, lottery and gift businesses are prohibited. Proposes an amendment to the 2022 Alabama Constitution to establish a state lottery.

The proposed amendment would allow computerized machines for historic races at racetracks in Greene, Jefferson, Macon, and Mobile counties, additional locations in Greene County, and existing bingo halls in Houston and Houston Counties. It authorizes pari-mutuel gambling, including wagering. Town of Whitehall, Lowndes County.

The proposed and passed changes would impose a 24 to 32 percent tax on certain establishments that conduct parimutuel gambling activities pursuant to the provisions of general law. The proposed amendment would require the Legislature to create a law enforcement division within the Alabama Gaming Commission to police lottery games and other gambling activities and eliminate illegal gambling activities.

It would also repeal all local bingo amendments, prohibit the enactment of future local amendments to the 2022 Alabama Constitution governing gambling activities, and require the governor to negotiate an agreement with the Poached Governor's Band. Band of Creek Indians (PCI)

“It's good to see the Senate moving forward with today's debate and continuing to move the gaming bill forward,” the Poarch Band of Creek Indians said in a statement Thursday night after the Senate passed the bill.

“Like everyone else in Alabama, we will continue to monitor these legislative efforts. I believe it will give me the opportunity to vote.”

One of Smitherman's concerns was that the three PCI-operated casinos in Wetumpka, Atmore and Montgomery could still play electronic bingo (as they are regulated by the federal government's Bureau of Indian Affairs). Meanwhile, six state-licensed gambling establishments in Houston, Lowndes, Mobile, Greene, Macon and Jefferson counties were not allowed.

RELATED: “Fact and Fiction” Q&A with Representative Chris Blackshear on the 2024 Alabama House Gaming Bill

“Let's give other operators the same authority,” Smitherman argued.

“My biggest concern is, is there a level playing field?” said Sen. Robert Stewart (D-Selma), who represents Lowndes County, where Whitehall gambling establishments are located.

At least nine amendments were adopted to change the replacement bill that passed out of committee two days earlier. Others were rejected by their bodies.

Smitherman expressed concern that the tax rate on gambling establishments is too high. At his request, an amendment to the bill lowered that rate to 20 to 28 percent.

The bill passed the Senate 22-11, with 15 Republicans joining seven Democrats in voting to force the bill to a vote. In addition to Albritton, Senate Pro Tempore Greg Reed (R-Jasper), Sen. Steve Livingston (R-Scottsboro) and Rules Committee Chairman Jabo Wagoner (R-Vestavia Hills) also voted to pass the gambling bill. He voted in favor of the Democratic Party. Eleven conservative Republican senators voted against it.

The changes to the bill sent it back to the House of Commons. The House could vote to pass the Senate version of HB151 or disagree with the Senate bill and refer it to a conference committee.

A conference committee would be tasked with developing a compromise solution. Otherwise, the bill will be invalid. If a third version of the bill is prepared, both chambers would still need to vote on it.

If passed, it would be a constitutional amendment, giving Alabama voters the opportunity to decide the issue for the first time since 1999.

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