Alabama Gambling Expansion Could See Delay Until at Least 2023 as Governor Opts for Public Vote

  • Gov. Ivey told reporters public approval was needed to permit lottery or casino-like gambling
  • A study group estimated Alabama gambling expansion could bring in $700m per year for the state
  • State lawmakers are currently considering sports betting legislation pre-filed last month
  • Legislators have struggled with opposition to gambling in Alabama, with multiple failed bills
a map showing the US state of Alabama
Gambling expansion in Alabama may have to wait until 2023 after Gov. Kay Ivey told reporters it would require voter approval. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

A setback for gambling supporters

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey has told reporters she will not allow expansion of the state’s gambling market until voters approve the idea at the ballot box.

Alabama law only permits casinos to offer electronic bingo gambling

The governor spoke during an interview on Wednesday morning, as reported by the Montgomery Advertiser. Currently, Alabama law only permits casinos to offer electronic bingo gambling. Ivey said voters would need to approve a constitutional amendment to permit a state lottery or casino-like gambling.

The governor added that she would begin compact negotiations with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians once voters have approved the expansion. According to the local newspaper, it is unlikely that a vote will happen before November 2022, which would delay any gambling expansion until 2023 at the earliest.

Study group recommendations

At the beginning of 2020, Gov. Ivey declined to consider gambling expansion until the state’s Study Group on Gambling had completed research into its potential effects. During Wednesday’s interview, Gov. Ivey said she was working on the advice of this group in requesting a referendum.

a state-run lottery could earn up to $300m annually

The study group published its 876-page report in December of last year. According to the findings, legal casino and lottery gambling in Alabama could generate up to $700m per year in state funds, creating 19,000 new jobs in the process. The report estimated a state-run lottery could earn up to $300m annually, while casino gambling at Alabama’s seven casinos could generate $400m in tax.

The report concluded that legalizing gambling would require a constitutional amendment. For this to happen, the group said 60% of both legislative chambers would need to pass a gambling bill, which would then require voter approval.

On Tuesday, Senator Del Marsh told reporters he intended to propose gambling legislation. His constitutional amendment would introduce lottery and casino gambling to support college scholarships. Marsh said he will introduce the bill early in the state’s legislative session, which runs until mid-May.

What about sports betting?

In its report, the Study Group on Gambling estimated that a legal sports betting market could generate up to $10m in annual tax revenue for the state. Alabama lawmakers have made multiple efforts to date to introduce a legal sports wagering market, without success.

Last month, state Representative John Rogers pre-filed a bill that aims to legalize online and retail sports betting in Alabama. House Bill 161 would create an Alabama Sports Wagering Commission, which could offer up to seven licenses for a fee of $100,000 each. It also proposed a 10% tax on gross sports betting receipts.

The Alabama House of Representatives Economic Development and Tourism Committee was due to read Rogers’s bill for the first time on Tuesday. It has not provided an update on the legislation so far.

Opposition to Alabama gambling

Alabama is a particularly conservative state when it comes to gambling. It is one of only six states that do not have a lottery, while its tribal casinos only carry approval for Class II Gaming. Other than this, the state offers daily fantasy sports betting, along with horse and dog racing. 

Several members of Alabama’s Republican majority government have typically opposed any gambling expansion legislation, citing moral objections. For this reason, various bills aiming to legalize a state lottery or other forms of gambling have so far proved unsuccessful.

In 2020, Alabama lawmakers considered House Bill 336, which would have legalized sports betting. The bill’s progression faced delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in March, and it ultimately failed to advance past this point. Legislator Steve Clouse R-Ozark also filed an Alabama lottery bill last year which failed to gain traction.