• Our 360 Staff

Lottery in Alabama? Group says proceeds should go to low income student scholarships

Alabama is one of five states—and the only state in the South—without a lottery since Mississippi approved a lottery two years ago; lottery ticket sales began 14 months later.

But the tide may be turning in Alabama. It is widely expected that the Alabama legislature will take up several gambling and lottery bills when it returns to work on Feb. 2. Bills have come before the state legislature before. The sticking point: legislators cannot agree where the proceeds of gambling or a lottery should go.

A new report released by the University of Alabama’s Education Policy Center this month suggests the projected $280 lottery proceeds should go to fund higher education for Alabama’s students. According to the report, approximately 70 percent should fund 2-year scholarships at state community colleges and technical schools for 40,000 low income Alabama students; and nearly 30 percent should fund 4-year scholarships at state colleges and universities for 16,000 low income Alabama students.

Among the lottery funded scholarship programs in the South, the group’s recommendation most closely resembles the Tennessee Promise Program which provides all the state’s high school graduates two years tuition-free at Tennessee’s community and technical colleges. Students must enroll full-time and maintain at least a 2.0 GPA while participating in eight hours of community service a semester.

Earlier this spring, Alabama Rep. Steve Clouse (R-Ozark) filed a lottery bill that would generate approximately $167 million a year with half of the proceeds going to the Alabama Pre-K program and the other half, or about $83 million, going to scholarships. Although the bill had more than 70 co-sponsors, it was not voted on due to the COVID-19 shortening the legislative session. Lottery bills in previous years have failed due to some members wanting all proceeds to go to education, some wanting a portion to go to the General Fund, which has to cover large increases in Medicaid and prison costs nearly every year, while others have moral or religious objections.

Rep. Clouse is reportedly waiting to read another report, this time from Gov. Ivey’s lottery study group, later this month before filing the lottery bill again for the 2021 legislative session.

Any bill that may pass in the state legislature would have to ultimately be voted on by the voters of Alabama as a constitutional amendment.

The last time Alabama voted on a lottery occurred in 1999 when it failed to pass by a 54-46 percent margin.

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