An Alabama sports betting bill is ready for a fast track in the state House.
A group of lawmakers is set to introduce a comprehensive gambling bill as early as Tuesday, the first day of the state’s legislative session, according to Sen. Greg Albritton, one of the legislature’s most adamant supporters of the issue. The move will be backed by leadership in the House, historically the chamber where Alabama sports betting and gaming issues have died in previous years.
Albritton told LSR the plan is for the lower chamber to vote on the package by next week. A constitutional amendment in Alabama needs 60% of both chambers to approve the legislation and a simple majority by voters in November. Multiple Alabama publications have put the issue near the top of important topics the legislature will tackle this session.
“Now, the question is, do they have the votes?” Albritton said. “If they pass a bill, we’ll be able to get it through the Senate. We have a better opportunity now than we’ve ever had, but that doesn’t mean it’s a guarantee.”
New Alabama sports betting effort
Albritton said the package, which he was “party to,” includes “everything and the kitchen sink.” That starts with a lottery, as Alabama is one of five states without one.
It also includes full casino gaming at five locations and online sports betting. Gov. Kay Ivey, a sports betting proponent, could also enter into gambling-related compact negotiations with Poarch Creek Band of Creek Indians.
Lawmakers would establish a lottery and gambling commission to oversee the new industries. If the legislature passes the gambling bill, it would also need voter approval in November, as the Alabama Constitution prohibits gambling.
House starting line important
Albritton told LSR the House would take the lead on sports betting this session last fall. He said House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter would develop legislation based mainly on Albritton’s legislation from the previous two sessions.
Twice in the previous five years, the Senate advanced gambling-related bills to the House, where they fizzled out. With House leadership on board, the tide might change in Alabama.
“I’ll be honest with you and say that I simply had no idea just how widespread of a problem we have,” Ledbetter told the Alabama Political Reporter late last year. “We don’t have hundreds of illegal gambling operations. We probably have more than a thousand.”
Opposition in place against Alabama sports betting
Albritton said there are lobbyists in the state ready to oppose AL sports betting and other gambling proposals. The most vocal opponent has been the Alabama Farmer Federation, according to the Alabama Political Reporter.
The Alabama Policy Institute is also against gambling, issuing a 17-page report on the topic late last year. Albritton said businesses in the state do not want major gaming operators in the state, fearing they might sway politics.
“They don’t want a big mule in the political crowd,” he said. “But we can overcome that and get the votes necessary.”
Ballot question wording important
Industry sources believe the comprehensive package could be a vehicle for negotiation. With that in mind, there is thought it could be whittled down to a simple sports betting bill.
There is also belief the Poarch Creek Tribe will push for in-person-only sports betting. In any case, once through the legislature, sources said the critical piece will be how the ballot question is presented.
“Even if the legislature passes, which seems possible at this point, it’s all going to come down to what the ballot question says,” the source said. “It has to be simple and direct.”
Complex Alabama gaming web
For the past 40 years, Albritton said Alabama lawmakers have created a mess of gaming laws at state and local levels. In the past 20 years, there have been approximately 15 attempts to pass some form of gambling legislation, he said.
Ivey is on board with capitalizing on the gambling industry. She created the Study Group on Gambling Policy in 2020.
The group concluded the state could generate up to $800 million a year with a total reform like the one ready to be introduced. Sports betting alone could contribute up to $10 million annually.
Sports betting hot in Southeast
Should the Alabama House move quickly early in the session, it will join two neighboring states with rapid sports betting legislative action.
To the west, Rep. Casey Eure introduced an online Mississippi sports betting bill last Monday and helped guide it through the House in less than a week. Eastward, the Senate turned to a bipartisan proposal to legalize online Georgia sports betting and pushed it through the chamber in less than two weeks.
Both states still have an uphill journey, but the early movement has industry proponents hopeful.