OUR VIEW: Voters should be given chance to decide gambling

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In somewhat a surprising result, the Alabama Senate fell two votes short Tuesday of the 21 votes needed to put a constitutional amendment for gambling in front of the voters. 

Sen. Del Marsh's comprehensive package failed 19-13 in the 35-member Senate, even with the "yes" vote of Pro Tem Greg Reed, R-Jasper. The proposed amendment that voters would have voted on would decide whether to allow a lottery, several casinos and sports betting. The plan called for Gov. Kay Ivey to enter a compact with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians to allow them to have the full range of casino games at their electronic bingo casinos in Atmore, Wetumpka, and Montgomery, more or less increasing the proposed overall number of state casinos to 10. 

Electronic bingo would have been prohibited, and a commission to oversee gambling regulations statewide would have been set up. Marsh proposed to use lottery revenue for college scholarships and other education needs. Casino revenue would be used to help expand broadband access in the state as well as to fund rural health services.

Marsh told AL.com that there was tremendous conservative and church pressure to change votes, and some votes did change. He said some senators said they would support the bill if he gave more time for companion legislation, which he did, but then they failed to support the bill. He apparently thinks his delay to reach out might have given more time for the opposition to gain votes. 

How things stand in the Legislature for gambling is dicey at the moment. One legislator rushed after the defeat to introduce a lottery-only bill. 

Gov. Kay Ivey, which had a study commission to look at the economic impact of gambling and worked with Marsh and Reed on the defeated bill, indicated she is ultimately in favor of any gambling bill to be decided by voters.

“Today’s vote by the Alabama Senate confirms more work must be done, because this issue is too important to not get it right,” Ivey said in a statement. “No doubt gambling is complex and challenging, but I remain committed to giving the people of Alabama the final say. I also believe the work of my Study Group last year can continue to be helpful in finding the right path as we move forward. Should the Legislature wish to continue discussions on this topic, I stand ready and willing to engage." 

The Legislative Services Agency estimated the lottery would generate $194-$279 million annually for college scholarships awarded on a mix of need, merit and workforce needs in the state. The agency estimated the casinos would generate $260-$393 million annually from the 20 percent tax on gaming revenues. 

Some of us have varying degrees of opinion on this matter. Some will think legislators upheld the moral standard, while we've heard others call  out those who voted no for being cowards. 

Whether or not we like the package is not the argument to be made at this point. It is clear that there is a growing sentiment to vote on this again. Many are focused on the lottery issue, of course, as Alabama is one of a handful of states without a lottery. Many look at the economic windfall that would come. There can be counter arguments in terms of social ills, but the trend and and the desire is strong enough that a significant number of state citizens want to issue raised. We can't deny that, regardless of how we feel. 

We feel the time has come to decide this issue again. The Legislature should come together to find some framework to put before voters, something that is workable, with a statewide commission to oversee the regulations. It would be inevitable that we would also have to find a method of dealing with the casinos and the dog tracks that are already here. 

Instead, 13 Republican senators decided they knew better than voters and killed the bill, and with it a chance to vote on it. We have always said in a democracy it is best to let the voters decide on whatever the issue is. As usual, Montgomery has a way of saying, we know better than you. And, come to think of it, that is the cowardly way out. 

We would hope for its reputation that it finds a way of adopting some time of amendment to take to the people and let voters decide the matter. If people want it that bad, they should have their chance, no matter how we feel individually.

- Daily Mountain Eagle