The fate of the Alabama gaming package compromise agreed to by a special conference committee consisting of three House representatives and three state Senators now rests with the Legislature’s upper chamber.

Alabama gaming expansion lottery casino
The Alabama Senate on April 30, 2024, considers a gaming package approved by a special conference committee. The Senate was a vote shy of passing the statute that would initiate a ballot referendum, but that isn’t the end of the gaming expansion fight. (Image: NBC13)

State Sen. Greg Albritton (R-Atmore), the chief sponsor of the Senate’s gaming expansion bill and a member of the conference committee, said the outcome now rests with lawmakers after the committee reached a resolution.

“I know we have been successful in one thing and that is to make everybody mad,” Albritton joked ahead of the votes. “But we’re making progress. I appreciate everybody’s efforts.”

The conference committee tasked with finding common ground between two gaming bills respectively passed by the Alabama House of Representatives and Senate recommended this week that the state expand gaming in the Cotton State to include as many as seven racinos with slot machines and electronic gaming, but no live dealer table games. Four of the seven racinos would be located at former greyhound racetracks in Jefferson, Mobile, Macon, and Green counties.

The committee also suggested that Gov. Kay Ivey (R) negotiate and enter into a Class III gaming compact with the Poach Band of Creek Indians to bring slots and live dealer table games to their current bingo-based gaming resorts in Atmore, Montgomery, and Wetumpka.

The committee additionally recommended the formation of a state-run lottery that would participate in Mega Millions and Powerball. 

Compromise Passes House, Stalls in Senate

Since gaming expansion can only be fully authorized with voter support through a ballot referendum to amend the Alabama Constitution, a three-fifths majority support is needed in each chamber to initiate the election question.

The conference committee’s recommendations quickly found support in the House. The House easily passed House Bill 151 with a 72-29 vote. House Bill 152 garnered 70 votes in support to also pass the legislative body.

HB151 is the bill to initiate the gaming referendum. HB152 authorizes the legislature to set a regulatory framework to govern the expanded gaming. Both require three-fifths support.

After passing the House, the gaming bills moved to the Senate late Tuesday night.

The Senate voted 20-15 on HB151, one shy of the 21 votes needed for a three-fifths majority threshold. The outcome resulted in many lawmakers assuming the bill was defeated.

That wasn’t the case, however, as Senate Secretary Pat Harris explained the vote was simply to adopt the conference committee report. The adoption only required a simple majority, he said.

As a result, the Senate can vote again on HB151, and if it passes with three-fifths majority support, HB152 would then be voted on.

We had a vote that wound up being a test vote, I guess you could say, to understand exactly where the membership was,” state Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Reed (R-Tuscaloosa).

The Senate is expected to re-vote on the gaming bills on Thursday. Albritton was surprisingly among the “no” votes. He said he opposed the committee’s decision not to allow the Poach Band of Creek Indians to expand with a commercial casino and believes the seven racinos would unjustly hurt the tribe’s economic outlook. The Native American group, the only federally recognized tribe in Alabama, runs Wind Creek Atmore in Albritton’s district. 

Special Election

If HB151/152 find the needed 21 votes in the Senate, Alabamans would be asked to support the gaming package during a special election that would be held on August 20.

Republican leaders in the Alabama capital opposed holding the gaming expansion referendum during the November general election, as some believe it could result in strong Democratic voter turnout. Along with deciding the state’s presidential nominee, the November 5 election will decide who represents Alabama’s newly drawn 2nd Congressional District.  

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