Senator: Alabamians Ready For Gambling Vote

Alabama Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh said citizens are "ready" to vote on gambling. He introduced in the current special session a constitutional amendment to let voters approve a lottery and casinos. Governor Robert Bentley called the session early to avoid giving gambling proponents time to mobilize public opinion.

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley called a special session of the legislature on July 13, a couple of weeks before lawmakers anticipated the summons to Birmingham to try to solve the projected fiscal year 2016 budget shortfall of about 0 million. One reason for the early call, Bentley said, was to avoid giving gambling proponents time to organize. That would include former Alabama Power Chief Executive Officer Charles McCrary, Harbert Management Corporation Chief Executive Officer Raymond Harbert and former Auburn football coach Pat Dye, who started the Alabama Jobs Foundation to promote a pro-gambling agenda.


Bentley wants to keep gambling out of the special session, but state Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh introduced a similar bill as the one he introduced late in the regular legislative session—a constitutional amendment that would let voters decide if they want a lottery and four casinos in Birmingham, Mobile, VictoryLand near Montgomery and at Greenetrack in Eutaw. In addition to electronic bingo, the casinos also could offer poker, blackjack, craps and roulette and other table games.


Marsh’s plan also would establish a gaming commission. The state would tax proceeds and gaming equipment. A study Marsh commissioned earlier indicated a lottery and Las Vegas-style gambling could generate $400 million a year in state tax revenue. The study also said legalized gambling could create up to 11,000 jobs.


“I don’t believe my members are inclined to vote for a bunch of new taxes,” Marsh said, referring to Bentley’s unsuccessful call for $541 million in tax increases during the regular session. He noted tax hikes are the wrong approach in an economy that still has not recovered from the 2008 recession.


Marsh, who said he does not gamble, said Alabamians now spend millions of dollars at Indian casinos in the state and millions more at casinos in other states. “The gaming industry is already in Alabama and in states near us and we are not generating one dollar in state taxes from any of it. I just don’t see raising taxes when we have a way to generate the dollars we need by first legalizing gambling and then taxing it,” Marsh said.


“I think if you check the temperature of the public, they are ready to vote on the gambling issue one way or the other,” Marsh added. He acknowledged that his plan does nothing to fix the current budget problems, but said his bill would solve next year’s shortfall. “I think we need to have a conversation about legalizing gambling and the governor is trying to cut off that discussion and I think that’s not right,” Marsh commented.


Bentley said he is not opposed to people voting on gambling eventually but stated Alabama needs to look at budgetary changes first. “I said when I first ran for governor and I’m saying now that I don’t have a problem with people voting on anything and that includes gambling. But gambling won’t solve this crisis. There will be plenty of time in the next regular session to deal with gambling. But we need to solve this budget crisis first.”


The initial meeting of the special session lasted 15 minutes, then lawmakers recessed until August 3 so they can study Bentley’s ideas and legislative budget subcommittees can continue to work. The session can last up to 30 calendar days. Bentley said he will called legislators back for a second special session if he doesn’t like what they come up with in the current one.