Alabama Greyhound Racetracks Back Campaign for State Gambling Expansion

  • Four racetracks have formed the Alabama Track Owners Association to push for an expansion
  • The group hopes to grow support for lottery, casino, and sports betting through an ad campaign
  • Multiple gambling expansion bills have failed to pass in Alabama recently, including two this year
  • An expansion would need public approval, meaning it likely won’t happen until 2023 at the earliest
Greyhound racetrack
Four Alabama greyhound racetracks have teamed up for an ad campaign with the aim of increasing support for the legalization of casino gambling, lottery, and sports betting. [Image:]

Racetracks teaming up

Alabama is a particularly conservative state when it comes to gambling. It is one of only six US jurisdictions without a lottery, and state law limits tribal casinos to just Class II Gaming. Greyhound racing is one of the state’s few betting options, and now racetrack owners have banded together in the hope of a gambling expansion.

aiming to gain public support for a constitutional amendment

Together, the Birmingham Race Course, Greenetrack Bingo & Racing, Mobile Greyhound Park, and VictoryLand have set up the Alabama Track Owners Association (ATOA). Through an advertising campaign, the group is aiming to gain public support for a constitutional amendment which would legalize lottery, traditional casino gambling, and sports betting.

ATOA released a short video on Wednesday providing a phone number for members of the public to call their legislators:

The association explained its reasoning for the campaign in a statement released this week. It noted the “hundreds of millions of dollars” lost in gaming and lottery revenue to Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida. ATOA also pointed to additional tax revenue, job growth, and business opportunities that an expansion could create.

A difficult issue in Alabama

The ATOA’s campaign may have some impact on public opinion regarding the issue, but legislators must still pass a bill before the state can expand its gambling options. Several members of Alabama’s Republican majority government have typically opposed any gambling expansion legislation, citing moral objections. This has resulted in the failure of various bills.

Gambling backers tried again this year to no avail. Senator Del Marsh’s gambling expansion bill, which would have introduced a state lottery and retail casino wagering at five venues, ultimately failed to gain enough support in the Senate. If it had passed, the public would have had their say on a constitutional amendment to permit gambling.

Part of the reason for the failure of Sen. Del Marsh’s SB 214 related to a lawsuit filed against the legislator. Three non-profit charity organizations accused the senator of taking bribes from the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. The suits also claimed Marsh planned to create an illegal monopoly.

History repeated itself again later in the year, when Senator Jim McClendon’s legislation failed to gain traction. The somewhat ambitious bill would have established nine casinos, sports betting, and a state lottery in Alabama. Instead, the House failed to vote on the legislation on the final day of the session.

Gambling expansion in 2023?

Alabama’s greyhound racetracks could eventually get their wish for a gambling expansion, but they may have to wait a while for that to happen.

the earliest that a gambling expansion could become effective would be 2023

In February, Governor Kay Ivey told reporters that she wanted public approval for a constitutional amendment before she could okay the legalization of lottery or casino gambling. It is unlikely that a vote will take place before November 2022, meaning the earliest that a gambling expansion could become effective would be 2023.

In requesting a public referendum on the issue, Ivey said she was working on the advice of the state’s Study Group on Gambling. In its 876-page report released in December 2020, the group found that legal casino and lottery gambling could generate as much as $700m per year in state funds, creating 19,000 jobs in the process.

The group also concluded that for a gambling expansion to take place, 60% of both legislative chambers would have to pass a gambling bill. Alabama’s next legislative session will begin on January 11, 2022.

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