Believe it or not, an overwhelming majority of Alabamians support some type of legalized gambling.
According to a poll conducted by McLaughlin & Associates on behalf of Gov. Kay Ivey’s Study Group on Gambling Policy, 70.8 percent support a lottery, while 25 percent oppose it. Beyond the lottery, 67 percent support legalized gambling, and 28.8 percent oppose it.
Can it finally happen in 2021? Will you be able to buy a scratch-off ticket at a Shell on I-65?
Ivey and the Legislature are poised to try.
As it goes, Alabama grappled with gambling for all of the 20th century. The state’s experience with Phenix City organized crime ruined legalized gambling in Alabama for decades. Once that memory faded, other obstacles arose.
There is legalized pseudo-gaming within Alabama’s borders, although these are considered games of skill and not games of chance.
Then-Gov. Don Siegelman attempted a lottery constitutional amendment in 1999 that would have allowed for the creation of an education lottery.
The effort was defeated by nearly nine points on the ballot, and the lottery opposition had ample help from out-of-state gambling interests concerned about what other legalized in-state gaming might come with the approval of the lottery.
It is a similar problem now, except all of the entities are inside the state of Alabama. The Poarch Band of Creek Indians and dog track casino gambling interests scattered throughout the state have been at a stalemate for decades.
Some insiders say that could change. For the first time, the parties involved concede it would be in their best interests to agree to end this figurative hostage crisis that has paralyzed the possibility of another stream of revenue for the state government.
How many election campaigns have we, the public, had to endure involving gaming or a lottery?
Enough of us are probably thinking, “Can we please just resolve this topic so the focus can be on Alabama’s other shortcomings — education, health care, infrastructure?”
Here is the fear: Might we as a state be so eager to put this issue away once and for all to allow the state’s version of Big Gaming to get a sweetheart deal?
Somewhere in the State Capitol in the past few months, perhaps in an office with a dry-erase whiteboard filled with a naughty-or-nice list of Ivey’s enemies, there was a deal worked out. It is just a matter of crossing the T’s and dotting the I’s.
Oh yeah, there is also selling it to those pesky voters in the form of a ballot referendum — hopefully in a better way than when they tried to peddle the referendum of the abolition of an elected state school board last year.
In the interim, it has to make it through the Alabama Legislature with a three-fifths supermajority of the House and Senate (63 representatives, 21 senators) for the public to have the opportunity to vote on the amendment.
The clock is ticking. The third year of a quadrennium, or the year before the next election cycle (if you are unfamiliar with the Legislature’s parlance), is the last chance.
In that final year of the quadrennium that falls on an election year, the Alabama Legislature has historically been reluctant to pass landmark bills, like a lottery constitutional amendment. Typically, members want to focus on their reelection and not have to answer for anything unpopular on the campaign trail.
The pandemic has wounded the possibility of a legalized lottery. In 2019, the Senate passed a bill that had no chance of making it through the House. Then came 2020, and nothing got passed.
This year, it is not a certainty anything beyond the education and general fund budgets will get a hearing. In addition to those constitutionally mandated budgets, speculation is the Legislature will hear a bill rolling back the governor’s executive authority under an emergency, reevaluate the office of the state health officer, codify Ivey’s executive orders on taxation and economic development, deal with the Department of Justice lawsuit alleging Alabama’s prison system is unconstitutional, and manage the perennially controversial issue of reapportionment.
Maybe throw in medical marijuana, a few get-out-the-vote messaging bills, and then we can talk lottery.
But do not dare think it is something that will see the light of day in 2022.
Of all those outstanding issues, there is good reason to believe gambling will not happen until 2023.
We should probably also be reminded never to underestimate the governor or the Legislature’s ability to overestimate their ability to defy political reality.
As we have seen with other so-called common sense constitutional amendments with engineered campaigns even proponents did not believe — like taking the politics out of education and letting the sitting governor appoint a school board for you, the uncaring public — a similar lottery proposal could come to be.
Maybe the council of our state’s wise elders engineering the next stab at gambling will do some polling before making their legislative members walk the plank on another unwinnable ballot referendum.
If they want finality on gaming, they should.
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access. During the month of December, give (or get) a one year subscription with TWO months FREE.