Is Alabama’s hostility to gambling finally fading?

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Situated firmly in the Bible Belt, Alabama has long been against legalizing gambling.

That is perhaps changing, as Alabama voters nominated candidates for governor — Republican Kay Ivey and Democrat Walt Maddox — who both favor creating a state lottery.

“The resistance is now openly fraying, suggesting that gambling is no longer a potent moral issue that animates voters and politicians the way it once did,” wrote New York Times reporter Alan Blinder.

Christian leaders change their perspective

The New York Times says the hostility toward gambling may be decreasing as Christian leaders are no longer prioritizing the issue the way they used to.

“The biggest priority right now for me is reminding evangelicals of why we are opposed to gambling, which means teaching a biblical view of economic stewardship and a biblical view of concern for the poor,” Russell Moore, who leads the Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy arm and is a native of the casino-dotted Mississippi coast told the New York Times. “I’m not concerned that evangelicals are changing their position on gambling, as much as I’m concerned that there’s often a kind of fatalism that assumes that gambling is going to be part of every economy.”

The gambling debate

Alabama has long struggled with the issue of gambling, as lawmakers faced several bills in recent sessions of the legislature aimed at loosening gambling laws, allowing the state to take part in the lucrative gaming industry.

But state lawmakers haven’t voted on legalizing gambling in nearly 19 years as recent efforts have stalled. Last it happened was under then-Gov. Don Siegelman.

In August 2016, the Greene County Circuit Court sided with the state of the of Alabama over controversial seizures of electronic bingo machines at the Frontier Bingo of Knoxville. In March 2014, Alabama law enforcement officers raided several casinos in Greene County, seizing cash and more than 1,000 illegal bingo machines. The raids and subsequent ending of bingo operations were “extremely detrimental to the quality of life” in the region, according to some community leaders.

Another salvo in the battle over gambling was fired by the VictoryLand Casino, which reopened despite a ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court shutting down electronic bingo operations for nearly three years, The Shorter casino has been shuttered since 2013 when a raid by the state took 1,615 gambling machines and $260,000 in cash. And in March 2016, the Supreme Court said casino owners were passing off games as “bingo,” and the machines were illegal.

In November 2015, Bentley rescinded an executive order disbanding his predecessor’s gambling task force, transferring enforcement powers to the office of Attorney Gen. Luther Strange.

Strange had also pushed hard against gambling, mainly daily fantasy sports (DFS) leagues operating in the state. Earlier this year, Strange had sent cease and desist letters to FanDuel and DraftKings, calling DFS “illegal gambling.” They have not operated in the state ever since, despite lawmaker’s attempts at legalizing DFS.

Least gambling-addicted state

For a state that’s constantly debating whether or not to institute a state lottery as a means to generate revenue, Alabama should probably consider a 2017 report that ranks the Yellowhammer State as the least gambling-addicted state in the country.

In personal finance website WalletHub’s latest report of 2017’s Most Gambling-Addicted States, analysts found Alabama is neither gambling-friendly nor do its residents have the need to seek treatment for gambling addiction.

Perhaps it’s simply a matter of access, but Alabamians are able to avoid the economic consequences of a gambling addiction, which affects slightly more than 2 percent of all U.S. adults. According to the Mayo Clinic, “gambling can stimulate the brain’s reward system much like drugs such as alcohol can, leading to addiction.”

That addiction can lead to serious economic consequences. On a societal level, compulsive gambling costs an estimated $6 billion per year, according to a study by the National Council on Problem Gambling.

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