Committee advances lottery bill, keeps casino issue alive

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — An Alabama Senate committee on Wednesday advanced a lottery bill as lawmakers try to get the issue of gambling, — with or without casinos — before state voters for the first time since 1999.

The Senate Tourism and Marketing Committee approved a lottery proposal sponsored by Republican Sen. Jim McClendon of Springville. However, Tourism Committee Chairman Del Marsh described the bill as a vehicle for negotiations and said lawmakers might revive the issue of casinos along with the lottery debate. The committee also approved other legislation that would set up a gaming commission to regulate casinos.

"You have members who want to see a more comprehensive gaming package and those who do prefer a simple lottery. All we did today was keep both alive," Marsh said.

The committee action comes a week after Marsh's proposal to authorize a state lottery and up to 10 casinos in the state failed by two votes in the Alabama Senate.

McClendon's bill would authorize a lottery where tickets could be sold at stores, kiosks and through a phone app.

"My goal is to allow Alabamians to play whatever games they are traveling out of state to play," McClendon said.

"The people will have the opportunity to vote on and see if they would like a plain and simple lottery. It doesn't address slot machines. It doesn't address church bingo," he said of his bill.

The Tourism Committee delayed action on a bill by Sen. Garlan Gudger, a Republican from Cullman, that would authorize a lottery, although instant games would be limited to paper lottery tickets and could not be sold electronically.

Any gambling proposal would have to be approved by three-fifths of lawmakers and a majority of state voters. Alabama voters in 1999 rejected then-Gov. Don Siegelman's proposed state lottery, but lawmakers in both parties say they believe voters are now more welcoming to the idea.

Alabama is one of five states without a state lottery. Marsh said he believes there is a mandate from voters to address the issue of gambling.

"The people of Alabama want to vote on something dealing with gaming, whether it is a straight lottery, whether it's a comprehensive package," Marsh said.

Alabama lawmakers will take a weeklong spring break next week. Marsh said lawmakers can take time to study the proposals and talk with constituents.

Lottery bills have become entangled with the larger issue of gambling because of concerns over what the required changes to state law would mean for operators of electronic bingo machines, which can resemble slot machines.

"At the end of the day, it's more complicated than just a simple lottery," House Speaker Mac McCutcheon said last week.