Alabama Governor Kay Ivey (R) says she will not entertain tribal gaming compact negotiations until voters express their support for gambling expansion.
Alabama is set to consider greatly expanding gambling in the state during the 2021 legislative session. While there’s bipartisan enthusiasm to finally authorize a lottery and sports betting, Ivey says other gambling, such as slot machines and table games, won’t be discussed until voters lend their support through a ballot referendum.
The Poarch Band of Creek Indians (PBCI), Alabama’s lone federally recognized tribe, wants to enter into a Class III gaming compact. That would allow its three casinos to offer slot machines and table games. Wind Creek Atmore, Wind Creek Montgomery, and Wind Creek Wetumpka presently only offer bingo-based electronic terminals.
Federally recognized tribes can offer Class I and II gaming at their casinos located on sovereign land. But for traditional slot machines and tables, a Native American entity must agree to terms with their home state, which typically involves sharing gaming revenue.
Having a compact is certainly one of the items on the table for consideration,” Ivey said this morning. “There would be no benefit to the state to begin negotiating a compact until we found out that the people of Alabama wanted to include a lottery and perhaps other expansion first.”
Any expansion of non-tribal gambling in Alabama requires the matter to go before voters through a ballot referendum. A simple majority support passes the issue and amends the Alabama Constitution.
Alabama Ballot Pathway
The Alabama Constitution dictates that only the state legislature can initiate a ballot measure. Efforts to seek voter approval must have a three-fifths support in both the state Senate and House to move the matter to the election booth.
Legislation has already been introduced in the Montgomery Capitol to seek voter input on a lottery, as well as allowing the state to seek a gaming compact with the PBCI. A bill to allow sports betting at the Wind Creek casinos and state horse and dog racetracks has also been filed.
Alabama is one of only five states without a lottery. It’s also one of eight states that doesn’t currently have a commercial or tribal casino.
COVID-19, as well as numerous weather events that led to eight federal disaster and emergency declarations in 2020, hurt the state’s income. Ivey says a lottery and more gaming could help in Alabama’s recovery.
“I’ve never been an out-front champion on this issue [gaming], but I have always believed that the people of Alabama should have the final say,” Ivey declared during her State of the State address this week. “If established in an accountable and transparent manner, good can come from this effort.
“I am confident the legislature will be thoughtful and deliberate as they debate this issue,” the governor added.
Tribe Pitches Big Benefits
In 2019, the Poarch Indians made a proposal to the state that promised big money, but in exchange for major exclusive gaming privileges. It’s a bid the tribe says is still on the table.
The tribe has offered to share 25 percent of its Class III gaming with the state, should voters back the expanded gaming and the state enter into a compact.
The Poarch Indians have also said they’d pay $225 million in one-time licensing fees for their three existing properties, plus two additional casino resorts. In exchange, the tribe would obtain a monopoly on all gambling outside the state-run lottery, including sports betting.
Today, the tribe thanked the governor on their social media channels for allowing the people to determine the fate of gambling.
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