Despite media reports linking proposed gambling legislation to an agreement to allow the Poarch Band of Creek Indians to build a new casino in either DeKalb or Jackson counties, Dist. 8 State Sen. Steve Livingston assured constituents he will study the bill and follow any amendments to it carefully.
Livingston, who represents Jackson, DeKalb and Madison counties, sits on the Alabama Senate Tourism Committee, which gave a favorable report Wednesday to Senate Bill 214. This proposed amendment to the Alabama Constitution is sponsored by State Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston. It would overturn Alabama’s ban on gambling and games of chance. Senate Bill 215 is the enabling legislation that would go into effect if SB214 is passed and then ratified by Alabama voters on the Nov. 2022 ballot.
A 1999 referendum on a constitutional amendment to create a state lottery and to earmark the resulting revenue for use in education failed 54% to 46%.
The bill was discussed on the Senate floor Thursday, but Marsh held off on voting on it until the legislature reconvenes Feb. 23 after a 10-day recess.
Casinos could be created at the state’s four greyhound tracks with a fifth in northeast Alabama, in either Jackson or DeKalb County, to be operated by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians (PCI). Senate Majority Leader Clay Scofield, R-Red Hill, said those two counties were most likely chosen as a potential site due to their geographical proximity to Chattanooga.
Livingston said, “As the Senate works through the details of this bill, there will be many amendments offered and changes made as to how the bill currently reads. I can assure my constituency that I will study not only the bill, but the recent report put out by Governor Ivey’s Gaming Task Force Report to determine what the direct impact will be on and Northeast Alabama.”
Livingston said he has “no details as to how the location of the casino will be determined if the bill passes through the legislature. If it does pass through the legislature, it will then give the opportunity to the people of Alabama to vote on it as a ballot measure. I can assure my constituents that I will keep the best interest of you in mind as I make decisions pertaining to this bill.”
Livingston urged the public to do its own research by reading SB214 at http://alisondb.legislature.state.al.us/ALISON/SearchableInstruments/2021RS/PrintFiles/SB214-int.pdf and Gov. Kay Ivey’s Gaming Task Force Report at https://governor.alabama.gov/assets/2020/12/FINAL-GSGGP-GAMBLING-REPORT.pdf.
Any bill would have to advance to the Alabama House, and Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, said he will “consult with both opponents and supporters, consider the findings issued by the governor’s Study Group on Gambling Policy, ask the sponsor needed questions, and push for any changes that I feel are necessary. If the bill arrives on the House floor, I will vote in what I believe is the best interests of my constituents in DeKalb County, just as I do with every matter that comes before the Alabama Legislature.”
The bill would also establish the Alabama Education Lottery Corporation and Alabama Gaming Commission to enforce compliance with state laws, such as proper licensing and fee payment. Lawmakers are also considering how the projected $500 million generated from a major expansion of gambling across the state would be spent.
For years, PCI has sought an agreement with the state that would allow them to offer Class II games at their Wind Creek casino properties in Montgomery, Wetumpka, and Atmore. Class II gaming is electronic bingo. Last summer, Gov. Kay Ivey’s Study Group on Gambling Policy stated they were ready to discuss proposals to allow gambling expansion, including the possibility of Las Vegas-style electronic slot machines and table games such as poker and blackjack at a limited number of existing sites across Alabama.
In Alabama, a constitutional amendment must be passed by a 60% vote in each house of the state legislature during one legislative session to advance to a referendum. In 2019, a proposed measure to again put the issue on the 2020 ballot failed to pass the Alabama House of Representatives by the required three-fifths margin after passing the Senate by a vote of 21-12.
In 2019, PCI launched a public awareness campaign focused on communicating details of a comprehensive plan for gaming in Alabama “designed to generate billions of dollars in new revenues to the State, create thousands of new jobs, and regulate and tax gaming interests.
It also calls for the construction of two deluxe tourist resorts in the northern part of the State, and supports citizens’ rights to vote on gaming issues, including whether Alabama should also have the kind of traditional lottery that other neighboring states have in place.”
On the supporting website, https://www.winningforalabama.com/investment, PCI states, “We want to build two new world-class resort destinations in Alabama, bringing the total to five top-rated Wind Creek properties that will attract tourism. Like our other deluxe properties, these new resorts will become economic hubs to the communities where they are located and spur investment and job creation.”