Lottery bill dead; on to BP funds

Published 3:10 am Saturday, August 27, 2016

Leaders of the Alabama Legislature declared lottery legislation dead yesterday with three legislative days left in the current special session.

The proposed constitutional amendment establishing a lottery was proposed by Gov. Robert Bentley and had been passed by the Senate. But the House of Representatives amended the bill, and when it returned to the Senate, Senate Democrats withdrew their support. Subsequently, the Senate voted to nonconcur with the House version of the bill.

The minority party wanted an option in the bill to allow existing dog tracks in the state to have the same gaming options that the Poarch Band of Creek Indians could have if it was allowed to expand its gaming operations in the state.

Gov. Robert Bentley has said he is not negotiating a compact with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, which already operates electronic bingo in three casino facilities in the state. But the federal Indian Gaming Act allows Indian tribes to operate any class of gaming legal anywhere in the state. A lottery is considered Class 3 gaming, the same class as table games in casino.

Rep. Mike Jones, R-Andalusia, said he spoke against the legislation and voted against it in the House.

“If it had been a clean lottery bill, it would have passed without any problem,” Jones said, adding that several amendments were designed to expand other gaming operations in the state.

Jones also said he was bothered by a letter Bentley wrote to legislators asserting that the lottery would solve a decades-old problem and save Medicaid, which is approximately $85 million short of the funding it needs in the fiscal year that begins in October.

Jones said at best, the lottery, if approved in a statewide vote, would begin generating money in two years. By then, he said, the money needed for Medicaid growth is expected to have eclipsed the money a lottery would generate each year.

Both the House and Senate will return to Montgomery on Tues., Sept. 6, when the legislature is expected to work on legislation that would address the use of BP oil spill settlement funds.

Among the proposals for the settlement funds is to use the money to pay off long-term debt, freeing up debt service monies to fund Medicaid.

But members of the Mobile and Baldwin counties delegation oppose that solution, and want most of the money spent on Alabama’s Gulf Coast.