More conservatives roll the dice on support for gambling bills

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WIAT) — When faced with raising taxes, or doing nothing and possibly shutting down parts of state government, a growing number of republicans are willing to double down on support for gambling legislation.

Alabama lawmakers are looking for ways to raise money, and this year that could include new types of gambling. WIAT went to Montgomery to cover the new developments on lottery and casino legislation.

Getting support for any type of gambling is a hard sell on republicans in Montgomery, but in light of the current financial crisis, more conservatives are willing to roll the dice.

There are two different lottery bills on the table this year, one for education and one for the general fund budget.

The sponsor, Rep. Craig Ford of Gadsden, said both could pass statewide if they can pass the state house. Ford said polling done around November of last year showed that around 75 percent of Alabama residents would support a lottery earmarked for education, and about 55 percent would support a lottery that would raise revenue for the general fund budget.

“I think it would pass either way, it would be easier to pass if we came with an education lottery like the HOPE scholarship they have in Georgia,” said Ford.

Ford said democratic lawmakers want the governor to sign a compact to allow Vegas-style table games at tribal casinos in Alabama, and ultimately dog tracks around the state in exchange for tax revenue.

Democrats are pushing the plan and now new republicans are signing on to parts of it, including the chairman of the house ways and means committee.

Rep. Steve Clouse of Ozark said he is now in favor of a compact between the state and tribal casinos. Clouse said he also supports the general fund lottery bill as a way to pay for Medicaid, but he’s not in favor of the education lottery.

“I think it would be a vote of the people, it’s just a matter of letting people vote. They would probably vote next March,” said Clouse.

He said the issue of a lottery is not settled in Alabama.

“They decided in 1999. That was 16 years ago, and they can decide again,” said Clouse.

Some republicans prefer a lottery idea to the idea of across the board tax hikes.

“If you want to play the lottery you can play the lottery if you don’t want to you don’t have to,” said Joe Faust, Republican, Baldwin County.

Other republicans aren’t sold on   the lottery.

“Some of the things I don’t like about it is that it number one it puts government in the gaming business,” said Rep. Mike Ball, Republican, Madison

One Montgomery County resident we spoke with has a theory about why some state lawmakers won’t support a lottery referendum even if polls show most state residents do.

“Probably the same reason they don’t have a strip club around here, they don’t want one,” said David Deramus.

Governor Bentley’s press office says he will not oppose a lottery referendum, and although he was open to the idea of a compact at this point, he has no plans to sign one at this point.

Governor Bentley is pushing for tax hikes to cover a $260-$290 million shortfall in the General Fund Budget. That is the fund that pays for prisons, Medicaid, state parks, state troopers and aid programs.

Copyright 2015 WIAT 42 News


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