Published on: February 8, 2024 at 02:44 hours.
Last updated on: February 7, 2024 at 02:53 h.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) used her State of the State address Tuesday night to urge lawmakers in Montgomery to send a bill to her desk that would allow a state lottery, commercial casinos or both.
For Alabama to expand gaming, voters must amend the state constitution through a statewide ballot referendum. Ivey, in the latter half of her second four-year term, believes it’s time for the Cotton State to end the gaming ban.
“This year, when Alabamians go to the polls, I hope they vote on another issue: gaming,” Ivey said.
I believe the current proposal the Legislature is considering is good for Alabama, and I will watch it carefully as it moves through this process. “It will crack down on illegal gambling, and will responsibly regulate limited forms of legal gaming, including statewide lotteries,” Ivey continued. “It is time for Alabama voters to have another say on this issue.”
Alabama is among the most restrictive gaming states. There are no lotteries, commercial casinos, iGaming or sports betting. Some provinces have passed local referendums allowing pari-mutuel betting, and charity gaming is also permitted.
Ivey remains one of the most popular governors in the country. The 79-year-old, a former state treasurer and lieutenant governor, was ranked the 10th most popular governor last year by Morning Consult. She has maintained a 60% approval rating during her term.
Alabama governors, including Ivey, refused to enter into a Class III gaming compact with the state’s only federally recognized tribe, the Porch Band of Creek Indians. The agreement would allow the Native American group to operate Las Vegas-style slot machines and table games at its tribal resorts.
The Poarch Creek Indians operate Class II casinos under the Federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act in Atmore, Montgomery, and Wetumpka. Wind Creek Casinos offer bingo-based electronic gaming machines that mimic slot machines but determine the results based on the bingo simulation.
Ivey in previous years has expressed hostility to gaming, but she has changed her tune in 2024. She believes a legal market will protect consumers, keep gaming money within Alabama, and generate new tax revenue for the state. Recent polls also indicate that about seven in 10 Alabamians would support a referendum on the games.
A 2020 state-commissioned study on the benefits of lotteries and casino gambling concluded that the state would receive between $300 million and $400 million annually from commercial casinos with slot machines and tables, and $10 million from sports betting. The lottery could generate up to $200 million annually for the state.
The Alabama Legislature convened Tuesday for its 2024 session, which runs through March 11. House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainesville) supports a gaming package that would allow voters in the state to decide whether they want to become a commercial gaming state.
Almost every state in the United States has some form of legal commercial gaming, with the exceptions of Alaska, Hawaii, and Utah. As gaming has expanded dramatically over the past two decades, there has been a major shift in public opinion regarding gambling.
The tide could finally be turning in favor of countries that have long opposed gaming measures, says John De Cree, a senior global gaming analyst at CBRE Equity Research.
“We are approaching critical mass in states with legal gaming, especially for online sports betting and land-based casinos, making the issue progressively more important for states to avoid tax leakage,” DeCree wrote this week in a memo about gambling expansion.
“With voter sentiment rapidly changing, many states that have traditionally opposed gambling have moves that could push them over the edge in the near future,” Dekre continued. “Alabama continues to see bills dropped, however, opposition dwindles every year, and a new bill is scheduled to be introduced soon.”