Casino, lottery debate expected this week in Alabama Senate

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Alabama state senators are expected to debate lottery and casino legislation next week amid a push to get the issue of gambling before voters for the first time since 1999.

Republican Sen. Del Marsh said he expects to get a Senate vote on his bill next week. The proposal would authorize a lottery and allow eight, or possibly more, casinos in the state. The Senate debate, which could come as soon as Tuesday, will be the first major test of support for the plan.

“I do believe we will have a bill that will get out of the Senate this week. Then we’ll just work it in the House,” Marsh said.

The Anniston Republican has circulated a new draft of the bill but said he has not decided on the number of casino sites after other areas made a push to be included. Marsh said he is getting polling on that issue.

The bill proposes establishing a state lottery and five casinos offering table games, slot machines and betting on sports games. The casinos would be located at four existing dog tracks plus a fifth site in north Alabama that would be run by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, Alabama’s only federally recognized Native American tribe.

The proposal also would encourage the governor to negotiate with the Poarch Band for a compact involving their three other sites that currently have electronic bingo machines.

Some lawmakers said they are concerned their districts were not included in five casino locations spelled out in the bill. Marsh said the latest draft still has five locations, but it might change.

Marsh’s bill would shut down electronic bingo sites, although card and paper games could continue.

Democratic Sen. Malika Fortier sent a letter to the Senate Tourism Committee saying an electronic bingo casino in impoverished Lowndes County would be shut down under the current proposal. Fortier, who disclosed this week that she is seeking treatment for cervical cancer, sent a letter since she could not attend the public hearing.

“How can we forcibly close the doors of a business that has existed for 20 years (in one form or another) in a small rural impoverished community like Lowndes County where jobs are few and the people have passed a Constitutional amendment to locate it there, but then gladly allow it in other areas where they aren’t hurting for jobs like Lowndes County,” Fortier wrote in the letter read at the meeting.

Republican Sen. Donnie Chesteen of Geneva earlier expressed concern that a Dothan-area facility was also left out.

Marsh’s proposal would have to be approved by a three-fifths majority of each chamber of the Alabama Legislature and then a majority of voters in a statewide vote.

Alabama is one of just five states without a state lottery.

Alabamians last voted on gambling in 1999 when they defeated a lottery proposed by then-Gov. Don Siegelman. Gambling bills introduced since then have fallen short under a mix of conservative opposition to gambling as a revenue source and a turf war over which entities could offer casino games or electronic bingo machines.

Republished with the permission of the Associated Press.