While he isn’t a fan of gambling, state Rep. Ed Oliver (R-Dadeville) said the Poarch Creek Indians’ political influence must be vanquished for the Alabama Legislature to craft a lottery proposal the public can vote on.
“I believe it can be overcome but it may be a long, long time,” Oliver said.
The legislature’s regular session will end this week but a lottery proposal the Senate narrowly approved was buried in the House of Representatives last week by a procedural motion that failed by a vote.
Oliver said momentum for a lottery bill in the House was fractured by a faction of legislators opposed to any form of gambling, competing plans to allow dog tracks in Macon and Greene counties to offer the same electronic gaming machines as the Poarch Creek Indians have in their casinos, those who want education to get some of the proceeds and the Poarch Creek’s powerful lobby.
“The lottery might be salvageable but there will be a tremendous amount of pressure from the Poarch Creek Indians,” Oliver said. “They don’t want competition. They lobby like anybody else but they happen to have more money than anybody else. Myself, I don’t expect to see anything else about the lottery this session. I’m getting a mixed bag of feedback.”
Oliver said the Poarch Creek continue to squelch any moves to provide the dog tracks with competitive electronic gaming machines, a proposal most often connected with Democratic Party support of a lottery.
“It’s very frustrating to hammer something out you know is right and in the end it doesn’t matter,” Oliver said. “There are groups who are not going to vote for a lottery no matter what and the Democrats decided they weren’t going to support anything if Greene County and VictoryLand weren’t able to compete.”
The public deserves to vote on a lottery because it wants a lottery, Oliver said.
“We did a poll during my campaign asking voters in my district if they were for a lottery and 80% said they were,” he said. “My concern was what is fair for the people of Alabama. I’m not pro-gambling but the people want to have a chance to vote on it. It may not pass but they have the right to vote on it and I want them to have that chance.”
The Senate approved a bill by Sen. Greg Albritton (R-Atmore) to design a “clean” paper lottery without allowing expansion of electronic gaming. Critics said Albritton’s bill protected the Poarch Creek’s electronic gaming operations at their casinos in Montgomery, Wetumpka and Atmore, which is in Albritton’s home district.
A separate lottery bill by Sen. Jim McClendon (R-Springville) would also have allowed video gaming at the dog tracks and other locations that already have electronic bingo but it was not considered.
Rep. Pebblin Warren (D-Tuskegee) introduced a bill to allow the VictoryLand dog track in Macon County to use the same sort of electronic gaming offered by the Poarch Creek at their three casinos but it was not acted on.
“The fair lottery was McClendon’s bill,” Oliver said. “I would have voted for the lottery bill as it was because people have a right to vote on it even though I didn’t like it. I think McClendon’s bill would have passed and it would have created more revenue. It’s the best bill. I understand them talking about a ‘clean’ lottery and they thought that had the right optics but it didn’t.
“What I thought was fair was if we’re going to have an amendment (to the lottery bill) then VictoryLand should be able to compete with the Indians. Did I like the lottery bill? It was better than nothing. We had established gambling that affected Tallapoosa County at VictoryLand that contributed $45 million to the state treasury and provided 3,000 jobs and 15% of those were in Tallapoosa County. Then it was shut down.”
Albritton’s bill did not provide any lottery money for the Education Trust Fund but the House amended it to give 25% of the lottery proceeds to education in hopes it would make it more attractive to the public. Despite that, House Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R-Huntsville) said the House was 16 votes short of the 63 needed for passage and Rep. Steve Clouse (R-Ozark) said the Republican caucus did not want the dog tracks to have the same gaming machines used at the Poarch Creek’s casinos.
“Education needs to get money from the lottery to have the best chance of being approved (by the public),” Oliver said. “People just don’t care about (lottery money going to) the General Fund and it was a hard sell. There was a proposal to give 25% to education and there was one amendment on the floor that made it 50%. But where in education does it go?”
With a lottery apparently scuttled until next year, Oliver said he expects Gov. Kay Ivey to call a special session to deal with Alabama’s prison system crisis and mental health.
“I think the lottery will come back,” Oliver said. “I really believe the more attention it gets, the more people will have a better understanding about it.”