Alabama lottery vote delayed amid divisions in Senate

Alabama's vote on lottery legislation has been delayed due to a divided Senate, as the bill’s sponsor feared he didn't have enough votes to pass the measure.
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A vote on lottery legislation in Alabama has been delayed due to a divided Senate, as the bill’s sponsor feared he did not have enough votes to pass the measure.

On Wednesday, Republican Senator Jim McClendon of Springville asked to carry his bill over until another day as he faced the threat of opposition and an effort to change the bill to authorise casinos in the state. The lengthy debate exposed Senate divisions over gambling.

Lawmakers will resume negotiations on the bill that could return to the Senate floor later this session.

McClendon told reporters: “It was cutting too close. If you lose the vote, it’s over, it’s gone. So, I did not want to take that risk today.”

If lawmakers and voters approve, the bill would authorise a lottery where tickets could be sold at stores, kiosks and through a phone app. McClendon said he preferred passage of a lottery bill but signalled openness to include casinos.

“I want a lottery. The people in my district want a lottery. Ideally, I would have a simple straightforward lottery bill but if it requires something more complex than that in order to get a lottery bill, I will certainly entertain the thought,” he added.

A second bill was approved by the Senate that would set up the potential lottery’s governing structure and decide how revenues would be divided. However, the legislation is largely meaningless unless the proposed constitutional amendment authorising the lottery is approved.

Senators earlier this session narrowly rejected a proposal by Republican Senator Del Marsh to start a state lottery and allow up to 10 casinos in the state.

Marsh warned that McClendon was ‘far short’ of the votes he needed to break a filibuster on the lottery bill, saying: “In my opinion, it’s going to be near impossible to get a vote on a straight lottery bill. I think you are going to have to have a comprehensive bill.”

Republican Senator Greg Albritton argued the state needs a more comprehensive bill, stating: “I would suggest that what we need to look at is a means of controlling gaming, not expanding it.”

Alabama is just one of five states in the US without a state lottery. The public last voted on a state lottery in 1999 when voters rejected then-Governor Don Siegelman’s proposed state lottery, but lawmakers in both parties believe voters are now more welcoming of the idea.