The people of Alabama may soon have a chance to vote on a lottery.
Senator Jim McClendon (R, Springville), who represents District 11, plans to submit two bills when the Senate convenes on Tuesday, March 18. Together, they would legalize gambling in the state.
“The goal is to allow people of Alabama to have a lottery and play those games that people in the other states get to play without having to drive to another state to buy a ticket,” he said. “That would include the Mega Millions and the Powerball. It’d include local draw games, and it would include the kiosk tickets sales.”
The reason for two bills is due to Alabama’s 1901 Constitution, which currently prohibits gambling. One bill would create a ballot measure to amend the constitution, while the other would be a legislative act to regulate the lottery and determine where the proceeds will be allocated.
“The legislature can’t create a lottery,” McClendon said. “The legislature can authorize the public to vote and change our constitution. We can’t have a lottery without the people voting.”
If passed, the measure to amend will appear on the 2020 presidential primary ballot next March – a deliberate move by McClendon.
“I intentionally have it scheduled for a regular voting day and not a special election day,” he said. “I’m targeting the day when we’re most likely to get the most people to the polls.”
Senator McClendon is also very clear about the driving force behind his legislation, stressing that he does not want the lottery to be something the state relies on for revenue. For him, it’s simply about giving the people a chance to vote on the issue.
“If we get this bill through, and we get a constitutional amendment, I don’t care how [the people] vote,” McClendon said. “If they vote it down it won’t bother me one iota. I’m not doing this to raise money. I am not interested in becoming dependent on gambling dollars to run our state. If in the process, the state of Alabama makes some money out of the deal, then that’s all the better.”
According to McClendon, the current language of the second bill would split the lottery proceeds between the general fund and the education fund. He purposefully excluded money from constitutional amendment bill so that those dollars could stay flexible.
“I’m putting how the money’s being spent in the legislative act,” he said. “The reason I’m not putting it in the constitution is because I want that money put in a place where we can budget it in years to come in different places that we might need it.”
This is not the first time McClendon has attempted to pass a lottery. In 2016, he submitted a similar bill that passed the Senate, but ultimately failed when it came back from the House – with McClendon himself voting against it. However, he defends his decision by claiming that the final version was too far removed from the original.
“The House amended the bill to make a paper lottery out of it,” McClendon said. “ It would have been very restricted. In other words, the amount of money generated to the state would’ve been dramatically reduced, and the number of games the public would’ve be allow to play would be dramatically reduced. Nothing like what is available in other states. I decided to kill the bill, and I did.”
Should these bills pass, it would not be the first time the people have had a chance to vote directly for a lottery. In 1998, Governor Don Siegelman put a referendum before the voters,but it was ultimately rejected.
Despite the past, McClendon feels confident that his bills stand a good chance of passing – citing the current makeup of the House and Senate, as well the support of his heavily conservative constituency.
“I did some polling data in my Senate district,” he said. “78% of those people polled said they wanted the right to vote on the lottery. You’d be hard pressed to find 78% of people in Alabama who agree on anything. But they do want the right to vote.”
In a final comment, Senator McClendon encouraged those in support to contact their representatives.
“If the people out there want the right to vote, they can urge their legislators to vote yes so the people will have the opportunity to vote for or against.”
Update: Here is everything you need to know about the Alabama Lottery Act.
Update: The Alabama lottery is officially dead for the 2019 session.