Local lawmakers take wait-and-see tack on Marsh's gambling bill

Tim Lockette, The Anniston Star, Ala.
·4 min read

Feb. 22—The Alabama Senate is set to take up debate about a wide-ranging lottery and gambling bill by Sen. Del , R-Anniston — but some of 's colleagues in the House are taking a wait-and-see approach before supporting the plan.

"I'm going to have to do a lot more studying on this," said Rep. Randy Wood, R-Anniston, one of six House members representing Calhoun County.

earlier this month introduced a proposed state constitutional amendment that, if passed by the Legislature and approved by the voters, would set up a state lottery and send the proceeds to college scholarships and "agricultural grants."

's amendment would also expand other forms of gambling in the state.

Dog tracks in Greene, Macon, Jefferson and Mobile counties would all be able to offer casino-style gambling after paying licensing fees to the state.

The Poarch Band of Creek Indians, which runs casinos in Atmore, Wetumpka and Montgomery, would be allowed to build one more casino, in either Jackson County or Dekalb County.

Alabama remains one of the few states without a lottery, although the Legislature takes a run at the issue on an almost yearly basis. Those efforts have typically failed because of disagreements among lawmakers about how to handle other forms of gambling in the state. Because federal law governs how much the state can regulate gambling on Indian land, there's a widespread sense among lawmakers that legalizing a lottery would shake up Alabama's ability to regulate casino-style games.

Attempts to reach for comment on his current proposal were not successful Monday. Members of Calhoun County's House delegation said they're waiting to see what the bill will look like once the Senate debates it.

"I'm not a gambler," said Rep. K. L. Brown, R-Jacksonville. "I'm a little on the thrifty side. And I know there are social issues that go with gambling, too. But the vast majority of the public is interested in getting to vote on a lottery."

Brown said he's watching the issue, with an eye toward negotiations that will likely change the bill. He said he has already heard from an Etowah County colleague who wants the proposed new casino in Etowah County rather than DeKalb or Jackson.

Brown said he doesn't expect anyone to propose a casino in Calhoun County. He said he floated the idea of a casino at McClellan with local officials when a past gambling bill was under consideration, only to be told there was no interest. And Brown believes the northeastern location of the proposed new casino is strategic.

"I think they want it to be close to state lines so they can attract some out-of-state money," Brown said. A Jackson or DeKalb location would place a casino close to both Georgia and Tennessee.

Opponents of the casino proposal say they think the state will see diminishing revenue from the gambling proposals once they pass.

"Everybody thinks that the gambling is just going to solve all the money problems for the state, but that's just not true," said Rep. Ginny Shaver, R-Centre.

Shaver's constituents are mostly in Cherokee County, though her district does stretch into Calhoun and DeKalb.

"I'm just not hearing a lot of support from my constituents for casino gambling," she said. Lawmakers have long said that polling shows widespread support for at least a statewide amendment vote on a lottery. The last time the issue went to voters, in the 1990s, they rejected it. But some policymakers still lament the loss of lottery revenue that could have gone to education.

Rep. Barbara Boyd, D-Anniston, said she's open to a lottery bill, but her support would depend largely on where the money goes.

"I support the concept but I have some reservations about not specifically stating how much money will go to each of the functions," she said.

Local House members agreed on one thing: There's little point in debating the bill as it's now written, because it's almost certain to see major changes in Senate debate.

"If they get it out of the Senate, I'll definitely get it out and read the new version," Brown said.

Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.