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Senate passes stripped down gaming bill; the real fight starts now

After a remarkable marathon day in which senators briefly filibustered their own bills, the Alabama Senate passed a gambling bill Thursday evening, but the bill passed could undergo significant changes. , it quickly became clear that Congress might not ultimately pass anything.

Basically, things get weird when Alabama lawmakers vote on gambling, and last month was Example A.

In theory, the Senate's gambling bill (two bills that include a constitutional amendment and an enactment) should be somewhat similar to the bill passed by the House a few weeks ago. They weren't…

The Senate version passed Wednesday stripped seven full casino licenses and sports betting. It guaranteed only a popular vote by paper lottery and the authority of Governor Kay Ivey to negotiate treaties with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. Additionally, the national vote was moved from the general election in November to a special election in September.

Because of these important changes, the Senate bill will need to be approved again by the House, a prospect that House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter has privately stated will never materialize. House members, who spent months crafting the carefully crafted bill that passed the chamber, have been frustrated in no small part by the lack of communication from senators, three of whom told APR this week: Mr. Ledbetter told APR that he was assured that no deal would be reached. About the law.

This means that both gambling bills will go to a conference committee, where a group of six lawmakers, three from each group, will have to come up with a compromise that, at least in theory, incorporates parts of each bill. We will create it together. If an acceptable compromise cannot be reached, the bill will fail.

“By late Thursday afternoon, the Speaker had told us that we would be in session and that we would do everything in our power to pass a bill very similar to the one we passed,” a House source told APR. '' he said.

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In fact, the House bill consistently received the most support among all stakeholders and state leadership. It gained support from the Governor, the Speaker of the House, and the President of the Senate and brought together many stakeholders, including dog track owners and Poarch Creek. Its only flaw, according to people familiar with the ongoing negotiations, is the omission of a provision that would give state residents currently operating gambling establishments a last-best bid for casino licenses. That's what it means. (Basically, after all bids for casino licenses are completed, Alabama residents are given the opportunity to beat the best bid entered by a pre-set margin.)

Without this provision, PCI officials have repeatedly told state leaders that they cannot commit to supporting the bill because it would put millions of dollars in revenue at risk without any guarantees. .

Without PCI's support in the Senate, the bill lost momentum because many members lacked a basic understanding of gambling law and those with ulterior motives were free to test their ideas. Almost immediately, lottery-only bills began to emerge from legislators who recognized that record numbers of voters wanted an opportunity to vote on this issue and believed the lottery was the most preferable option. .

However, many of these lawmakers seem to be missing the reason why the lottery is so popular. That's because most voters associate the lottery with funding scholarships and other important educational opportunities. The Senate-passed bill includes no such targeted spending. Instead, the company will split its profits into thirds, with one third going toward “education-related” products.

At one point Thursday, Senate sponsor Sen. Greg Albritton added an amendment that would change the funding formula, making it less likely that Lottery proceeds would contribute enough to the legislation. He was then put in the awkward position of filibustering his own bill. The second largest prison in the state.

“This is not a good bill, but why would it be?” asked one lobbyist who worked with lawmakers on gambling legislation. “The House bill took months to put together and covered every possible option. This (Senate) bill was put together on the fly.”

If lawmakers intend to negotiate the bill and seek a compromise, they can't formally begin the process until March 19, when Congress returns from spring break. However, lawmakers who participated in the initial negotiations told APR that they plan to begin preliminary negotiations during the legislative session. Take a break and hopefully complete the trade after the break.

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“Nothing is going to change overnight, it just depends on the buy-in of the leadership,” said one House member. “I would feel betrayed if that happened, but there have been a lot – a lot – of lies about this bill over the last two weeks, so nothing surprises me anymore.”

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