• Alex Nelson

Study group estimates $710 million at stake if Alabama blocks gambling

The Alabama Study Group on Gambling Policy, formed by Governor Kay Ivey in February, released their final report Friday detailing the potential impacts of lottery and casino gambling if allowed in the state. According to the committee, legalized gambling could bring in an estimated $710 million in revenue while generating up to 19,000 jobs for Alabamians.

Led by chairman and former Montgomery mayor, Todd Strange, the 12-member group has spent the last ten months researching how gambling might affect the state economically, fiscally, and socially. In order to serve on the committee, members were required to sign ethics pledges preventing them from profiting from their committee work and ensuring that no individual held any known conflicts of interest. None of the group’s members were compensated for their service.

Notably, four members of the study group are persons of color including Dr. Regina Benjamin, former United States Surgeon General; A.R. Almodovar, CEO of Huntsville-based Intuitive Research and Technology; Walter Bell, former Alabama Commissioner of Insurance and father of CNN’s on-air personality Kamau Bell; and Elizabeth Huntley, litigation attorney at Lightfoot, Franklin, & White.

In a statement announcing the release of the study group’s report, Governor Ivey reiterated the purpose and task of the committee.

“Earlier this year, I established the Study Group on Gambling Policy to thoroughly review and gather all the facts surrounding the seemingly endless debate on gambling in Alabama. They were tasked with providing detailed information to allow public officials and the people of our state to make the most informed decision possible, should we decide to pursue legislation to deal with this issue,” said Ivey, adding, “I believe their research will be pivotal as gambling policies are being considered, debated and potentially voted on.”

The 876-page report is the result of extensive research into legal precedents involving gambling as well as observations of successes and failures in other states that allow legalized betting. Subject matter experts from across the nation contributed to the study group’s research. David Barden, CEO of the New Mexico Lottery Authority, was an early contributor to the group’s work. During one of the study group’s meetings earlier this year, Barden estimated that by following best practices, Alabama could anticipate lottery performance, on a per capita basis, to be in line with states like Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee.

The report summary examines a broad range of considerations related to gambling and its effects. According to the release, “as many as 66,375 individuals in Alabama” suffer from gambling disorders. The study group identified treatment, prevention, and education as specific funding target areas to help address concerns about gambling addiction and other issues associated with legalized betting.

At the heart of much of the debate around gambling in Alabama is Section 65 of the 1901 Alabama Constitution, which bans lotteries and gift enterprises. Alabama is one of five states nationwide that does not have a state lottery. Despite the prohibition on gambling, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, under federal law, are allowed to operate gambling facilities in the state. The group owns casinos in Atmore, Montgomery, and Wetumpka. Over the years, the legislature has passed local constitutional amendments allowing for electronic bingo games in certain areas. VictoryLand in Macon County and GreeneTrack in Greene County are two of the largest beneficiaries of such amendments.

During the announcement address on the steps of Alabama’s State Capitol, chairman Todd Strange made it clear that Alabama could surely benefit from a change in its current position on gambling.

“Gambling will work in the state of Alabama, and we feel the advantages outweigh the disadvantages in that endeavor,” said Strange. “There is $600 to $700 million that start and stabilizes growth. There are new jobs created that are twice what the per capita income is on an annual basis.”

Out of the group’s work came five key findings regarding how Alabama might respond to the question of legalized gambling:

  1. Do nothing.

  2. Prohibit gambling but incorporate a regulatory authority.

  3. Allow a lottery but nothing else.

  4. Limited gambling. (Limitations on location, type, and venue)

  5. Full gambling governed by a single regulatory authority

While the future of gambling in Alabama remains uncertain, Governor Ivey expressed optimism about what the study group’s report might mean going forward.

“I believe their research will be pivotal as gambling policies are being considered, debated and potentially voted on. As my team and I pour over the findings, I encourage the Legislature and the people of Alabama to do the same. The potential to act on gambling is an opportunity that cannot be accomplished solely by a governor or solely by the Legislature. It is incumbent on us to work together to provide the citizens of Alabama their opportunity to determine the future of gambling in Alabama.” Ivey said.

“I continue to maintain [that] the final say on gambling belongs to the people of our great state, and if and when I have a recommendation regarding a specific course of action, I will do so in full transparency to the people of Alabama, working hand-in-hand with the Alabama Legislature,” the governor concluded.

Now that the final report has been released, the Study Group on Gambling Policy will be dissolved.