Senate to start debate on state lottery

Lottery scratch ticket

A proposal to start a state lottery a headed to a key Thursday vote in the Alabama Senate as supporters try to break Alabama’s status as one of five states without the games.

Senators were expected to debate a bill by Republican Sen. Greg Albritton of Atmore that would limit a lottery to paper tickets, including instant tickets and multi-state lottery games and would not allow video lottery terminals which can resemble slot machines.

“I think I’m optimistic, but it is certainly not in the bag,” Albritton said. “We are going to put it on the floor and I know there is going to be a heated open debate on it. There is going to be a few votes taken. We’ll know when we get there.”

Albritton on Thursday morning said he was uncertain if he can muster the 21 votes needed to pass the constitutional amendment in the 35-member Senate or stop a filibuster from opponents.

The legislation faces a difficult to navigate gauntlet of conservative opposition to gambling and longstanding rivalries between state dog tracks and the Poarch Band of Creek Indians over who can operate electronic gambling machines in the state.

However, Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh said he was optimistic about the bill’s chances.

“My goal today is to move a lottery bill out to the House,” Marsh said.

If approved by the House and Senate, the proposal would go before voters on March 3, 2020.

Alabama is one of five states — along with Utah, Alaska, Hawaii, and Nevada — without a state lottery.

One focus of the debate will be on whether electronic gambling should be allowed.

Senators who support the state dog tracks said they want to either allow video lottery terminals at the track or at least ensure that the tracks’ current electronic bingo operations can continue.

A state committee added an amendment over Albritton’s objections to exclude electronic bingo and pari-mutuel betting from the definition of video lottery terminal.

Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, said his aim is to protect the tracks’ current electronic bingo operations.

Singleton said he is trying to maintain the “status quo” at the tracks and make sure a “paper” lottery law couldn’t be used to shut down the tracks current electronic bingo operations. Albritton said he will try to strip the amendment because he is concerned it could lead to widespread electronic gambling.

The Legislative Service Agency, which estimates how much revenue bills will generate, predicted a paper lottery would produce $166.7 million annually.

Republished with the permission of the Associated Press.