MONTGOMERY — A new version of a lottery bill has been filed in the Alabama House with enough co-sponsors to easily get it through that chamber, if it makes it to a vote.
A different lottery bill filed recently in the Senate also sets up a compact with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians to allow table games at its casinos, including two new sites in Jefferson County and north Alabama.
Both bills are constitutional amendments requiring voter approval. There are about two months remaining in this legislative session and many more steps would be needed before either proposal could be placed on the ballot.
On Wednesday, Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, said he filed the new lottery bill to “get it in place,” but is not yet pushing to get it on the House floor.
“I’m not interested in tying up the House’s time if the Senate isn’t going to address it,” Clouse said.
The bills came after Gov. Kay Ivey last month told lawmakers she wants the “facts” on the financial impact of a lottery and expanded gambling in Alabama and created panel to produce them. She said she won’t support any action on a lottery until she has a report from her study group, which will likely come after the legislative session has ended in May. Constitutional amendments don’t need the governor’s signature.
Ivey spokeswoman Gina Maiola on Wednesday said Ivey fully supports the people of Alabama ultimately being able to vote on a lottery or other gambling items.
“In establishing her Task Force, she is aiding the people so that they have all of the facts and best information,” Maiola said. “Gov. Ivey believes that the best route for Alabama to take with this issue is to establish the facts first, and then get it in front of the people for a vote. She has certainly shared this message with legislators from both sides of the aisle.”
Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, is a co-sponsor on Clouse’s House Bill 418. But Wednesday he said the House will wait for Ivey’s findings.
“The public wants us to address a lottery but we are working with … the governor’s office and the gambling commission,” McCutcheon said. “That is priority.
“I do support a lottery. But at the end of the day we’re going to wait on the commission before we try to do any action on it.”
Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, said the compact issue does need more study, but a simple lottery may not.
“There are a lot of proposals floating around,” Ward said. “Oklahoma has dozens of compacts, so it gets real complicated real quick. On the lottery side, we’ve been debating this for over 20 years … I think people are tired of dealing with this, they’re ready to go ahead and move this along.”
Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, who chairs the Alabama Democratic Party, said he supports a lottery. He’s a co-sponsor on Clouse’s lottery bill.
“In concept, I support a lottery,” England said. “Obviously, it’s got a long way to go, but I think it’s a good way to raise some money and if it’s done the right way then I’m all for it.”
Clouse’s bill would split revenues, estimated at about $167 million a year, between the state’s pre-kindergarten program and higher education scholarships.
The state’s voluntary First Class pre-K program is the nation’s highest ranked for quality, but it is funded at a level that reaches only about 40% of the state’s 4-year-olds.
The bill has the same text of another Clouse filed in February, but now it has a long list of co-sponsors on both sides of the aisle.
Clouse has said he would like the amendment to go to voters on the high-turnout November ballot.
He hadn’t yet talked to Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, about the bill, which has been assigned to the Economic Development and Tourism Committee.
Meanwhile, last week Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Range, filed a separate lottery bill that calls for a compact with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. It would allow for two new Poarch Creek casinos in Jefferson County and northeast Alabama, each paying a $250 million licensing fee to the state. Then, the Poarch Creek would pay a 25% tax on gambling revenue at all its sites. Existing dog track and bingo operations in the state would pay the same tax, under the bill.
Lottery proceeds from the sales of PowerBall and other tickets would go into the Education Trust Fund to be appropriated as lawmakers see fit. The bill creates a Gaming Trust Fund to collect gaming license fees and taxes.
Money from the fund would pay the expenses of a new Alabama Gaming Commission and “annually, a percentage of the monies remaining in the fund determined by the Legislature shall be divided equally among the counties of the state on a per capita basis,” the bill states.
There is not yet a fiscal note on Albritton’s bill estimating total possible revenues.
Albritton, who like Clouse has previously sponsored lottery legislation, said putting the lottery and casino gambling in one package is the only way to do it. In previous sessions, lottery bills have been derailed by opposition by gambling interests.
“I don’t think waiting is going to help. We need to outline where we want to go,” Albritton said about the current study group. “What I’ve tried to do is address this thing holistically and give them some guidance.”
In the House, Clouse has disagreed, saying a lottery and casino gambling efforts need to be separate.
In an Alabama Daily News / Mason-Dixon February poll of 625 registered Alabama voters, 80% said they support establishing a state lottery. Eleven percent were opposed to it and 9% were undecided.
Rep. Mike Ball, R-Madison, is a co-sponsor on Clouse’s bill. He’s been a lawmaker since 2002. He said a special session may be the best time for lawmakers to address a lottery or compact such as is in Albritton’s bill.
“When gaming comes up, it just sucks the political oxygen out of the air and it’s hard to do something else,” Ball said. “It would probably be best to deal with it in a special session.”
Rep. Randy Wood, R-Anniston, said that if Clouse’s constitutional amendment is on the November ballot, he’s likely to vote against it when he goes to the polls. But in the State House, he’s a co-sponsor.
“I don’t gamble, I’m not actually for the lottery,” Wood said on Wednesday. “But when we’re elected to a position, we’re supposed to do what our constituents want.”
He said he’s heard from about a dozen people opposed to a lottery and 200 to 300 people who are for it.
Alabama Daily News reporters Caroline Beck and Todd Stacy contributed to this report.