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Gaming bill passes Senate, but voter consideration still long way off

News Staff Writer

State Senator Greg Albritton, who helped put together the comprehensive statewide gaming bill that recently passed the Alabama Senate, said this week there were two solid reasons he pushed for passage of the legislation.
“First off, if it gets to the people, I think it will be voted in overwhelmingly,” Albritton, who resides in Atmore, said prior to the Monday (April 19) meeting of the county’s Republican Executive Committee. “The other reason we’re doing this, is that we already have gaming all over the state anyway, and we need to gain control of it.”
The measure passed the Senate by a 23-9 margin, just weeks after a similar bill had been rejected by two votes. Albritton said his position as chairman of the body’s General Fund Finance and Taxation Committee helped him swing other senators into line.
“I’m the General Fund Chairman, so I twisted some arms,” he laughed.
State Rep. Alan Baker cautioned voters not to scratch their tickets before they’re printed, that the bill’s passage in the senate doesn’t mean state residents will be buying lottery tickets locally or participating in electronic gaming any time soon.
The bill, which requires a Constitutional Amendment, must now be considered by the Alabama House of Representatives before it gets any closer to reality. In fact, Baker said, the number of amendments the original proposed legislation underwent has delayed close scrutiny of it by most House members.
“We (House members) were going at it late last Wednesday (April 14) evening,” he explained. “(Senators) were working late, too, and word trickled down about a gaming comprehensive bill, something Senator Albritton had come up with, being passed out of the senate.”
The bill, which initially called only for a referendum on establishment of a state lottery, cleared the senate with several other considerations, including authorizing up to nine spots within the state to operate “casino-type table games.”
The nine sites include each of the three casinos already being operated in Alabama by Poarch Band of Creek Indians (in Atmore, Montgomery and Wetumpka). Under the legislation, the tribe would pay a portion of its revenue to the state.
Tribal CEO Stephanie Bryan issued the following statement upon the bill’s senate passage.
“I want to thank Senate President Pro Tem Greg Reed, along with Senators Albritton, (Del) Marsh and (Jim) McClendon, and everybody who contributed to this effort in the Senate,” Bryan said. “This historic vote is the first step to empower Alabamians who deserve to have their voice heard on this issue.”
If the bill is approved in its present form, casino and sports betting sites would also be authorized in Jefferson, Mobile, Macon, Greene and Houston counties, as well as one in either Jackson or Dekalb counties.
“I understand that a number of amendments were added to what was originally a lottery-only bill, and the clerks are trying to put all the amendments together, so it’s a wait-and-see game for us,” Baker said.
He added that the legislative package would probably be signed by Speaker of the House Chester C. “Mac” McCutcheon III, then sent to the House tourism and/or economic development committees.
“I don’t have any idea what might shake out of that,” he said. “If it even comes to the House floor for a central vote, that’s an unknown right now. There is a lot of uncertainty. So, to put it into perspective, we really don’t know.”