When it comes to state lotteries, six stubborn states hold out on cashing in. Alabama, gunning for last place in just about every category known to modern civilization, continues to stall on the adoption of a state lottery and progressive gaming legislation, but the tides of change seem to be closing in.
According to many political forecasters, Alabama might be the next state to break down and adopt a lottery. The iron is hot and the timing is right, as public favor is polling high.
For years, the state has relied upon loans, savings and one-time magic bullets to balance its budget. Living on borrowed time, busted buyers face a looming $200 million to $300 million shortfall — $700 million if all the borrowed money is thrown into the calculation, according to one recent report.
“We knew this day was going to come. We knew this crisis was going to take place, and it’s here,” Republican Gov. Robert Bentley stated before an audience late last year.
Bentley continues to draw criticism from his own party and the rest of the state, as his recipe to solve the budget crisis will be inevitably hinged on sweeping tax increases.
Democrats in the state have come up another solution. A lottery, argues Democratic State Rep. Craig Ford, could put a huge dent in the state’s budget problems — bringing in an estimated $280 million in revenue each year.
“A self-imposed tax increase is preferable to state-mandated attempts to remedy budget woes,” Ford stated.
Alabama Democrats have been proposing lottery legislation for years, but this time is different. The budget situation is dire enough that political insiders are calling for a unified approach to addressing lottery and gaming politics.
“Without a unified approach, we will all lose,” Ford said, as he has emerged as a leader in addressing the state’s lottery and gaming prospects.
Lottery debates are déjå vu for many, who remember a similar battle 15 years ago when the state nearly voted for one. The lottery is a divisive issue, but it cuts through constituency division when it seems to be one of the only viable solutions the state can court.
As Alabama braces for turbulence, lawmakers scramble to find a viable remedy. With most of its budget magic out of tricks, the state needs real money or real deep cuts will become a dreaded reality.
Prisons and Medicaid are the largest targets, and both are already inadequately funded. The state’s prisons are facing almost double their maximum capacity. The state’s hospital association says more than a dozen rural hospitals have closed because too many patients come in without health insurance. And, sadly, the list goes on. Alabama needs economic relief … and needs it now.
As the conversation becomes increasingly loud, one option, in addition to a lottery, continues to remain largely overlooked and under-publicized. The Poarch Band of Creek Indians, Alabama’s only federally recognized Indian tribe, may be holding the state’s ace. On multiple occasions, the tribe has offered a significant financial opportunity that would provide substantial economic relief for the state: a Tribal-State Compact.
Briefly, a compact would give the tribe exclusive gaming rights in Alabama in exchange for a significant, long-term economic contribution to the state. The immediate benefit could be as high as $250 million.
“The tribe is committed to doing whatever we can to help address Alabama’s economic crisis. A Tribal-State Compact would offer an immediate solution for the economic woes the state of Alabama is facing,” said Robbie McGhee, chief governmental relations advisor to the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. “While the tribe is not against a lottery, the lottery is a long-term solution. On the other hand, a Compact would offer an immediate solution to an immediate economic problem.”
If Alabama agrees to enter into this unique compact agreement, the current economic crisis would be significantly eased with a single stroke of the pen.
Amy Elizabeth McGhee is a communications and policy professional who has worked on behalf of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.