INSIDE THE STATEHOUSE: Stellar group studying gambling in Alabama
Another legislative session has passed, and Alabama still has no lottery. Actually, the legislature does not in itself have the authority to pass a state lottery, they can only authorize a ballot initiative to let you vote on a lottery. It takes a constitutional amendment.
The lottery would pass in a vote in Alabama simply because Alabamians are tired of their money going out of state to Georgia, Florida, Mississippi and Tennessee. All our surrounding Southern sister states have lotteries and Alabamians are buying lottery tickets in those states, paving their roads, and educating their students. It would pass In Alabama in a unified bipartisan vote. Alabamians who would not or never have bought a lottery ticket would vote for it, and those that must trek to our bordering states to buy them definitely would vote in favor. It is well known that the locations that sell the highest numbers of lottery tickets in Florida and Georgia are on the Alabama border.
The lottery proposal this year was doomed from the beginning because Gov. Kay Ivey in her State of the State address announced that she was taking an interest in the issue and announced a study group to study gambling policy for the state. Gov. Ivey had never taken a position for or against gambling as lieutenant governor or during her campaign for governor or as governor. Therefore, when she took to the stage in the State of the State, it was apparent that she was finally weighing in on the issue.
Well, folks, she did not just appoint any old study group, she quickly named a panel of Alabamians that are blue chip, top of the chart, super Alabama leaders. This distinguished group is above reproach and have no ties or for that matter no real interest in gambling. Most of them have probably never even bought a lottery ticket or pulled a slot machine lever. However, you can bet that this group will come up with a wise and prudent approach to how Alabama should address the gambling solution for our state.
Kay Ivey has been able to get the best citizens in Alabama to participate in major decisions and initiatives. However, it would be difficult to find a bluer ribbon, stellar accomplished group of Alabamians as she has selected and garnered to serve on this panel to study gambling.
It will be chaired by former Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange. He has been successful in business and government and is above reproach and well respected. Other members of this impressive group include Rey Almodovar of Huntsville, who founded and runs a major engineering firm in the Rocket City; Deborah Barnhart of Huntsville, the chief executive officer emerita of the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville; Walter Bell of Mobile, the past chairman of the world’s largest reinsurance companies and a former Alabama Commissioner of Insurance; Dr. Regina Benjamin of Mobile, a physician who served as the 18th Surgeon General of the United States and before that was president of the Medical Association of Alabama; former state treasurer and retired banker Young Boozer, who is universally respected; Sam Cochran, who has been Mobile County’s sheriff since 2006; Liz Huntly, a widely respected attorney and child advocate in Birmingham; Carl Jamison of Tuscaloosa, a third-generation shareholder of one of Alabama’s largest and oldest public accounting firms; former Alabama Supreme Court Justice and Court of Appeals Judge Jim Main; and the legendary journalist Phil Rawls, who recently retired as Alabama’s leading and most respected reporter – he covered Alabama government for the Associated Press for 35 years.
Perhaps the most respected and accomplished member of this elite panel is Bishop Dr. Mike Watson. He is the Bishop in Residence at Canterbury Methodist Church in Birmingham and is serving as the Ecumenical Chairman of the Council of Bishops. He has served and founded major Methodist Churches in Dothan and Mobile. He is also the past president of the Mobile School Board. I have known Mike Watson since our college days at the University of Alabama. I have never known a better man.
You will probably see this study group’s recommendations on the top of Gov. Ivey’s agenda when she gives the 2021 State of the State address next February.
Another legislative session has passed, and Alabama still has no lottery. Actually, the legislature does not in…
Alabama lottery bill would split proceeds between pre-K, college scholarships
A Powerball advertisement in Port Clinton, Ohio. Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, plans to file a lottery bill that would split proceeds between pre-K programs and college scholarships. (Photo: Jon Stinchcomb/News Herald)
The chair of a House budget committee will file a constitutional amendment that would establish a state lottery to fund pre-kindergarten programs and some college scholarships.
“I think we need to end the debate about where the distribution should go,” Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, said in an interview on Monday. “Most of the states around us have an education lottery.”
The legislation as currently drafted would allow paper-based instant lottery games and paper or electronic tickets for non-instant games. It would ban the use of video lottery terminals (VLTs), which look like slot machines. Clouse said he would expect the legislation — a constitutional amendment that would need voter approval — would bring in about $167 million a year.
“If we’d done it a lot earlier, we’d have a lot more revenue,” he said.
The bill will need approval from both chambers of the legislature. No lottery bill has gotten out of the Alabama Legislature in 21 years.
The legislation would put 50% of proceeds — roughly $84 million — into the state’s pre-kindergarten program. Another 50% would go to “scholarship awards distributed after the payment of other gift aid, such as grants, scholarships, etc.” One-quarter of 1% of proceeds — about $418,000 — would go toward programs to help compulsive gamblers.
Clouse said he envisioned the scholarships being needs-based.
The lottery would not be a windfall for the Education Trust Fund, which provides money for public education in the state. The $167 million projected from the bill is roughly 2% of the $7 billion budgeted to the ETF this year. Lottery revenues also tend to be stagnant over time, even as other costs rise.
Alabama is one of 5 states, and the only one in the South, without a state lottery. Mississippi, the only other state in the region that held out against lotteries, began selling tickets in November. The Alabama Constitution bans lotteries and games of chance, creating the need for an amendment.
Alabama State Rep. Steve Clouse looks over paperwork on the floor of the house of representatives at the Alabama State House in Montgomery, Ala., on Tuesday, May 21, 2019. (Photo: Jake Crandall/ Advertiser)
There have been several attempts to establish a state lottery over the last few decades. But voters defeated the only measure to get legislative approval in 1999. Legislators attempted to approve a lottery bill amid a budget crisis in 2016. Clouse brought a bill last year that would have sent 75% of proceeds to the General Fund, which pays for most non-education funding in the state, and 25% to the ETF.
But both efforts failed amid an ongoing standoff over gambling between the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, who run casinos in Atmore, Montgomery and Wetumpka, and dog track operators in Macon and Greene counties.
The Poarch Band operate under federal law, while the dog tracks operate under state law. In the past, representatives of dog tracks have expressed concerns about lottery proposals that require the games to be paper-based, which they say would bring Class III gaming — traditional casino games like slots and table games — to the state. They argued that because the Poarch Band operate under federal law, they would be able to access VLTs in a way that the dog tracks would not.
Some gambling experts, however, say that betting on dog races is Class III gaming and that the dog tracks already run these risks.
The Poarch Band have opposed efforts by the dog tracks to clarify the legality of electronic bingo at their operations. The fight helped doom Clouse’s lottery bill last year; it failed a procedural motion in the House by a single vote.
Gaming should be one of many major issues when the Alabama Legislature begins the 2020 session on Feb. 4.
Gaming is expected to be a major issue when the Legislature returns on Feb. 4.