The Alabama Senate Tourism Committee on Wednesday released a positive report on a bill to expand Alabama casino gambling and create a lottery.
Senate Bill 214 is a proposed amendment to the Alabama Constitution that would repeal Alabama’s constitutional prohibition on gambling and gambling. Senate Bill 215 is the law that would go into effect if SB214 were passed and then ratified by Alabama voters. Both SB214 and SB215 are sponsored by Senator Del Marsh, R-Anniston.
Both bills received a positive report on Wednesday from the Senate Tourism Committee, chaired by Marsh, who served as Senate President from 2010 until February 2, 2021, when he officially resigned.
SB214 would create a state lottery. It would also enable casino gambling, including electronic slot machines, in a limited number of existing locations in Alabama, and would require the governor to sign a contract with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.
The Poarch Creek Indians currently host electronic bingo games at their Wetumpka and Atmore facilities regulated by the federal government’s Bureau of Indian Affairs. In exchange for agreeing to pay state taxes, PCI would build a new facility near Chattanooga. Marsh said the Chattanooga Casino would be in either DeKalb or Jackson County. He didn’t know which ones yet.
A number of senators and lobbyists have raised concerns about the bill as it is being drafted.
Marsh said he would remove the bill from committee and then bring it up in the Senate on Thursday. Then he would transfer both bills. Legislators will take next week off for planning purposes and then return the following week. Marsh said he will then replace SB214 with a replacement bill he is currently drafting. Marsh said he hoped to resolve any replacement concerns.
Robert McGee, a lobbyist for the Poarch Creek Indians, was largely positive about the bill, but said that the license to operate their casino should be longer than five years. McGee said he preferred 30 years.
Sharon Wheeler, representative of the Whitehall Entertainment Center in Lowndes County, which was banned from Marsh’s dealings with the other gambling bosses, said, “Lowndes County’s banning in this area is obviously unfair.”
“Just because we’re a smaller player doesn’t mean we should wipe out the future of those jobs in poor Lowndes County while we open a new facility in North Alabama near Chattanooga,” she said.
A letter was read from Senator Malika Sanders-Fortier, D-Selma, who was unable to attend for health reasons.
“I have concerns about gambling,” wrote Sanders-Fortier, but if to allow it, why not allow the people of Lowndes County to keep their jobs? “How can we forcibly close the doors of a facility that has been open for 20 years?”
Marsh said he would look into this and try to “be fair to Lowndes County”.
“When I accepted this bill, I had a firm belief that the people of Alabama wanted to address this issue once and for all,” Marsh said. “We currently have four facilities in the state. At some point there has to be a limited number of facilities. “
Senator Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, raised concerns that the Birmingham circuit is being charged more for its license than any other facility. Marsh said that Birmingham has the largest potential business volume, which is why they have the largest royalty but also the longest license. He promised to work with Smitherman.
Senator Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, raised concerns about the diversity language in the bill and how it would be enforced.
Marsh said he spoke to Governor Kay Ivey and that she insisted that the lottery had a scholarship component.
“There will be scholarships, but most of them will be used for professional education, not just for children leaving school but for adults too,” Marsh said. “Most of the four-year grants are used for STEM training.”
The rest of the money goes to broadband, rural health care, mental health and a fund for infrastructure projects.
Senator Billy Beasley, D-Clayton, introduced an amendment that would guarantee that Jacksonville University, Troy University, the University of West Alabama, and the University of Montevallo would be included in the distribution of college funds. The Beasley amendment was accepted.
“Are there HBCUs in there,” Singleton asked.
Marsh assured him it was them.
Senator Andrew Jones, R-Center, told Marsh, “I want to thank you for your hard work on this law. It is a very “thought-out law” before a favorable report is presented. Both bills received a positive report from the committee and are expected to be in the Senate on Thursday, the sixth day of the 2021 legislative session.