'Not just not a lottery bill'

Benjamin Bullard, The Cullman Times, Ala.
·3 min read

Mar. 3—With the Alabama Legislature in session this week, finding common ground on a bill sponsored by state Sen. Del Marsh (R-Anniston) is one of the highest-profile measures on the Senate's near-term to-do list.

As it's currently written, Marsh's bill would carve out designated gambling areas in five places across the state, while also proposing to put a lottery referendum to Alabama voters. The bill has met with early opposition from lawmakers who believe it inequitably rewards some areas while penalizing others, and the Cullman area's legislative delegation has yet to support it.

Sen. Garlan Gudger (R-Cullman) says the bill is likely to undergo significant revision as it moves through the Senate. He's reserving judgment — at least for now — until some of its contested features have been addressed, and until he's seen Marsh's promised piece of enabling legislation, which aims to clarify spending details — as well as details on what casinos could do in Alabama (and where they could do it).

"We decided that there has to be a parallel bill that tells you where the buckets of money will go, and also the enabling legislation, and we don't want to vote on this bill until all of that is out in the open," said Gudger. "It's been pushed back for another two weeks to work out those details before a vote comes.

"On the lottery side, the way it currently reads is that you either have a chance to vote for the lottery with casinos or not at all — and that's a tough choice. Most of the people I have polled, more than 70 percent are for the lottery. But only around 50 percent are for the casinos. That's a big difference. All these bills are fluid, and I'm not going to say 'yes' or 'no' until I see what's in it. I'm waiting to see what the enabling legislation will say before I make up my mind."

House Rep. Corey Harbison (R-Good Hope) already views the bill skeptically, though the House won't formally encounter the bill unless it first clears the Senate.

"I've always said that I support the people having the chance to vote on a lottery. But this bill that Senator Marsh has introduced is not a 'lottery' bill; it's more of a gaming bill disguised as a lottery bill," said Harbison. "I'm not sure it's going to be what we need in Alabama, because it's setting up for a few places to be winners and a lot of other places to be losers.

"The way it reads, it would go in and override local legislation for a number of counties that have already voted for their own forms of gaming. It would have to do away with their locally-created gaming commissions, which already oversee money that funds local bonds and spending that those places have committed to, based on what they've set up for funding through gaming. I don't support doing away with that."

While Harbison said he's not categorically opposed to considering Marsh's bill if it undergoes significant revision, he did indicate he'd prefer to take up a state lottery as a separate issue from bookmaking and casino gambling.

"This bill is going to need a lot of changes before it stands a chance of passing. I don't hear favorable things about it either in Montgomery or here at home in its current form. It's definitely not just a lottery bill."