Lottery legislation faltered in the Alabama Senate on Wednesday amid deep divisions among lawmakers over gambling.
A proposed state lottery was supposed to be the central subject of a special session called by Gov. Robert Bentley but the idea quickly hit stumbling blocks. Senators were divided over whether to allow slot machine-type games at state dog tracks, and a handful were staunchly opposed to gambling.
Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh said early Wednesday that a lottery bill did not have the 21 votes needed to pass the Senate, and the vote count failed to improve through the day.
“This is a razor-thin vote because you have a percentage of that body that – I don’t care what it looks like – if it says lottery, it’s no. I get that. You do have others, another percentage, that it’s whether the gaming is included and if the gaming is included, who gets it,” Marsh said.
Bentley backed a bill that would authorize a state lottery and send the money to the state general fund. A rival bill would also allow electronic lottery terminals – which resemble slot machines or video poker games– at four state dog tracks. Senators debated the dog track version for several hours on Wednesday before giving up and moving on to unrelated legislation. Marsh said they would resume debate Thursday.
“I’m not ready to make a prediction yet. I’m certainly not ready to bury it yet,” said Sen. Jim McClendon, who is sponsoring both bills.
Bentley brought lawmakers into special session to debate his proposed lottery as a means to fund the state’s perpetually cash-strapped Medicaid program. The governor’s backing brought a lottery bill to the Senate floor for the first serious debate since then-Gov. Don Siegelman proposed a lottery in 1999. However, from the start of the special session lawmakers were pessimistic about the bill’s chances because of the split among lawmakers.
“You’ve got divisions between people who will only vote for a clean lottery, and people who will only vote for a lottery plus everything else under the sun. And there’s nine of us that think the state should not sponsor vice at all,” Sen. Dick Brewbaker, R-Pike Road, said.
Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, said he supported the dog track bill, saying it would provide more revenue to the state and jobs at dog tracks.
“The VLT (video lottery terminal) machines from what we’ve seen from other states have a 40 percent higher revenue return than just a regular lottery,” Singleton said.
Bentley estimated a lottery alone would raise $225 million. McClendon projected the machine bill would raise more than $400 million, and $100 million of that would be steered to education.
Alabama is one of six states – along with Mississippi, Utah, Alaska, Hawaii, and Nevada – without a state lottery.
Because the Alabama Constitution bans most games of chance, three-fifths of legislators would have to approve any gambling legislation and a majority of voters would have to approve changing the state constitution to allow a lottery or gambling.
McClendon on Wednesday unsuccessfully urged senators to approve a bill and let voters decide the issue.
“I would ask for you to trust their judgment when it comes to this,” McClendon said.