Fantasy sports, gambling could be big business for state

Lottery scratch ticket

A slate of bills aimed at loosening Alabama’s gambling laws and setting the state up to benefit from the lucrative gaming industry have been slowly winding their ways through the legislative chambers this Session, but none have gained any real traction in a Legislative Session marred in controversy over ill-fated budgets and sexually explicit recordings.

Despite that, the bills keep coming, aimed at regulating untapped gaming revenues and opening the doors to a state lottery and even full-on casino gambling.

The first high-profile lottery bill was announced only days before the start of the Legislative Session. Sen. Jim McClendon (R-Springville) and Rep. Alan Harper (R-Northport) introduced SB19 and HB13, respectively, that offer a constitutional amendment to allow a state lottery to be established. The bill makes no mention of how the proceeds from such a lottery would be spent, it only allows for residents to vote on whether a lottery should be operated in the state. Legislators would be tasked with figuring out how to set up and allocate the proceeds next year.

The Harper-McClendon legislation has passed hurdles in their respective committees, but so far has not come up for discussion on either floor

Rep. Craig Ford (D-Gadsden) has offered four bills aimed at establishing the Alabama Lottery Commission and distributing the proceeds from the operation. HB10 would establish the commission, as well as the Lottery Trust Fund where profits would be stashed to fund college scholarships for qualifying students. HB208 establishes the Alabama Gaming Commission, which would oversee pari-mutuel wagering at county-approved racetracks and levy taxes on some establishments. HB209 is the meat and potatoes of 10 and establishes all of the commissions, corporations and funds required to oversee the proposed state lottery and gaming endeavors. HB278 allows the governor to negotiate a compact with the Poarch Creek Indians, who are currently the only operation allowed to offer slot-machine gaming in the state.

Like the Harper-McClendon bills, Ford’s bills have gone before their required committees but have gained no real traction.

Sen. Trip Pittman (R-Daphne) has offered his own lottery bill, SB232, which would allow Alabama to participate in other multistate lotteries and compel the legislature to establish rules regarding the enterprise. Pittman’s legislation has gone before committee but has not yet come out on the other side.

Rep. John Knight (D-Montgomery) has offered HB263, which would simply repeal Alabama’s prohibition on a state lottery. Knight’s legislation was directed to committee in February but, so far, has gone nowhere.

And while lottery and pari-mutuel gambling has long been a centerpiece of Alabama’s political discourse, a newcomer has made its way into the fold. Two bills have been filed to regulate fantasy sports contests in the state, possibly setting the state up to be involved in what has quickly become a multibillion operation.

SB114 from Sen. Paul Sanford (R-Huntsville) and HB56 from Rep. Connie Rowe (R-Jasper) would both establish regulatory rules regarding fantasy contests in the state. The bills would require contest operators to institute procedures for consumer protection, require audits of operators and provide penalties for those operating outside of the established regulations. Further, the bill makes the industry immune from being considered a gambling operation in the state.

Both have seemingly stalled in committee.

Despite the fact Alabama could benefit greatly from the revenue that these types of gaming operations would generate – Missouri is expecting to generate “several million” dollars off of fantasy contest regulation (an industry slated to rake in about $20 billion by 2020) and South Dakota has raised nearly $2.5 billion through its state lottery – state lawmakers appear poised to avoid a vote on the topic and let another year tick by with no good answers on how to generate much-needed funding.

Being in the Bible Belt may be the biggest reason Alabamians have long opposed such gaming operations, but it doesn’t hurt that organizations that run gambling enterprises, such as the Poarch Creek Indians, have funneled money into anti-gambling candidates’ campaigns.

The New York Times reported in 2014 that the group had covertly spent $350,000 to fund anti-gambling candidates.

And that wasn’t the first time. In the late 1990’s, Christian Coalition Chairman Ralph Reed was caught up in a scandal with GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The duo funneled $1.3 million from the Choctaw Tribe to the Alabama Christian Coalition. The move was made to hide that the money had come from Choctaw gaming interests and used to fight video poker and a proposed lottery in the state.


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