Gov. Kay Ivey reopened the Governor’s Study Group on Gambling Policy by signing Executive Order 719 on Friday, Feb. 14.
“I am committed to, once and for all, getting the facts so that the people of Alabama can make an informed decision on what has been a hotly debated topic for many years,” Ivey said in a press release. “Without a doubt, there will be ramifications if we eventually expand gaming options in our state just as there are costs associated with doing nothing.
The purpose of the study group is to produce a report examining the current status of gambling operations in Alabama. The group will also look at the potential political, economic and social costs and benefits associated with different forms of gambling, according to the executive order.
The group will survey forms of gambling and the regulatory structures and practices that exist in each of Alabama’s four neighboring states.
Consideration will also be given to the forms of gambling that could be allowed in Alabama.
In the final report, members of the study group may give recommendations for legislation.
The group consists of 12 members which Ivey appointed. In agreeing to serve on the study group, each of the members must sign an ethics pledge attached to the order and serve without compensation or reimbursement.
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Former Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange chairs the group. Members were selected from across the state, including the Auburn area.
Phillip Rawls, a lecturer at Auburn University’s School of Communication and Journalism, was selected to serve on this study group by Ivey and Nathan Lindsay, director of appointments for the governor’s office.
His career as a reporter spanned over 35 years with The Associated Press, where he covered state government and politics.
Rawls said he believes he was selected to be a member because he became familiar with gambling history and issues in Alabama through his career as a journalist.
“Every time I covered it in the legislature, there was more debate about where the money would go than whether a lottery was appropriate or not,” Rawls said. “I would expect the same to hold true for the future.”
General consensus is difficult to reach regarding where the funds produced from a system should be allocated, Rawls said.
Rawls noted the many different ways states have chosen to distribute the money raised.
“Some do college scholarships, some have it going to state agencies, some have it going to K-12 schools,” Rawls said.
Because there are so many different approaches, reaching an agreement has proven difficult in Alabama, which is one of only six states to not have a lottery system.
“Every so often, this issue resurfaces through a new form of legislation,” Ivey said in a press release. “By my estimation, we’ve had more than 180 bills regarding a lottery or expanded gaming since the late 1990s.”
The last bill to be introduced became defunct in the 2019 legislative session because opposition arose regarding the legalization of gambling and concerns over where the funds would be allocated.
The last time voters were able to hit the polls on this issue was to vote on Gov. Don Siegelman’s proposal in 1999.
Task forces for gambling have existed and dissolved within the Alabama government ever since.
Despite failed legislation, people within the Auburn community have occasionally chosen to travel to other states to play the lottery.
“I have definitely traveled to another state to play the lottery,” said Ken Ward of Opelika.
Caleb Flowers, originally from Abbeville, said he has driven to other states before, especially when the jackpot was high enough.
The study group must present the report no later than Dec. 31, 2020.
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