Article IV, section 65 of the Alabama Constitution reads: “The legislature shall have no power to authorize lotteries or gift enterprises for any purposes, and shall pass laws to prohibit the sale in this state of lottery or gift enterprise tickets…”
With the state legislative session beginning Feb. 2, some lawmakers intend on sponsoring bills that would create a state lottery for Alabama, one of the six states that currently prohibit it.
State Sen. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, and Rep. Alan Harper, R-Northport, will both be sponsoring such a bill, with McClendon estimating the potential revenue of his bill to be upwards of about $300 million per year.
Having already attempted to pass many state lottery bills throughout the past several years, Rep. Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, is planning to introduce one as well.
“A statewide lottery is a way to fill in the gaps without losing important programs, and it does so in a voluntary way,” Ford said in an opinion article.
A bill proposing to amend the state constitution would need the support of three-fifths of both houses in the Legislature. The bill would then go to voters in a statewide referendum.
We believe creating a state lottery would be beneficial to Alabama because it would help alleviate the current budget shortfall of more than $260 million.
Attempts by Gov. Robert Bentley to raise taxes have been largely unsuccessful because of a stubborn Republican-led Congress, so the Legislature has resorted to combating the shortfall by cutting government spending and has moved $80 million from the Education Trust Fund to the General Fund.
If the Legislature continues to refuse to raise taxes or instate a lottery, soon other already-poorly funded areas of government may have to be cut, such as prison funding and Medicaid.
Unlike Nevada, where most of the anti-lottery lobbying is a product of its massive casino industry, Alabama has opposed the lottery largely on moral grounds.
Opponents argue the lottery is simply a regressive tax that preys on needy folks who are more inclined to participate.
While this argument may seem compelling to some, it doesn’t seem as strong when you take into account that a lottery would help poor, qualified students attend college by creating new scholarships.
The revenue from a lottery could also help fund K-12 education, which has been cut 17.3 percent since 2008. After all, education is one of the best cures for poverty.
Another thing to consider is that many Alabamians already travel across state borders in order to play other state lotteries. With the Powerball game approaching 1.5 billion, Alabamians are flocking over to neighboring states such as Georgia in an effort to win.
Instead of paying for the scholarships of Georgian students, Alabamians ought to be able to help their fellow Alabamians attend college.
Georgia’s lottery-funded Georgia Hope and Zell Miller scholarships provided $679 million in student aid during the 2010-11 fiscal year.
In addition to creating incentives and opportunities for students across Alabama, the revenue from a state lottery could be used to fix other state problems such as prison overcrowding and the lack of funding for rural hospitals.
This isn’t the first time the ban has been challenged in Alabama. Back in the late ‘90s, Democratic Gov. Donald Siegelman advocated for a state lottery that would help fund Alabama colleges.
Naturally, being that Alabama is in the heart of the Bible Belt, there was strong religious opposition to it. The lottery bill passed through the Legislature but was defeated in a 54 46 percent statewide referendum.