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Alabama dog track owners launch gambling push – but familiar hurdles remain

By Brendan Kirby

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    MOBILE, Alabama (WALA) — Alabama’s dog racing tracks on Wednesday launched a new push in a very old debate – gambling.

The Alabama Track Owners Association is running ads aimed at building support for legalized betting. There is nothing complicated about the message.

“This is what Alabama loses every year because our legislators haven’t passed a gaming and lottery bill,” the narrator says, as an image of $700 million appears on screen. “And this is the number to call your legislator and tell them the time to pass one is now. 1-855-GAMING-1.”

The Alabama legislative session does not even start for almost nine months. But Robert Kennedy Jr., a spokesman for the association’s efforts, told FOX10 news that he believes the matter could be included in an upcoming special session that will be needed to redraw the state’s political boundaries following the 2020 census.

“We actually think it’s the perfect time,” he said. “And that’s because we got as close as we have in recent memory to actually getting something passed during the last regular session.”

The legislation that Kennedy refers to passed the Alabama state Senate earlier this year but fell apart in the House. It would have created a lottery, as well as legalized sports betting and authorized casinos at the dog tracks – including Mobile Greyhound Park in Theodore.

The Poarch Band of Creek Indians, a part owner of the facility, supports the effort.

“As part owners of the Mobile Greyhound Park, our Tribe has always supported Alabamians’ right to vote on whether or not to allow gaming in the State,” the tribe said in a statement to FOX10 News. “We appreciate the hard work of legislators in past sessions to craft a workable plan for gaming in Alabama, and we remain optimistic that they will be successful in passing a bill that will be good for all Alabamians.”

The Legislature must meet this year in special session to redraw the congressional and legislative districts in time for the 2022 election. In addition, Kennedy said, lawmakers may take up the thorny issue of the state’s troubled prison system. He said gambling should be included on that agenda.

“We believe, just given the fact that were so close to success that we should not wait until the next regular session,” he said. “We believe now is the time. We believe the people want this to happen.

But the proposal continues to face long odds for the same reasons why the issue has stalled for two decades. It requires a constitutional amendment, which means the Legislature needs a supermajority in the House and Senate. And lawmakers never have been able to reach consensus on issues like whether it should include just a lottery or all gambling, and how the money would be spent.

“We have the same obstacles; that is true,” said state Sen. Greg Albritton (R-Atmore).

Albritton supported the gambling bill that passed the Senate last session. But he said he does believe lawmakers would revisit the issue during a special session on redistricting. That will be complicated enough on its own, he said.

“I don’t think that will get much traction at all,” he said. “I don’t think gambling would be something the governor would include.”

State Sen. Chris Elliott (R-Daphne), who represents the Eastern Shore and south Baldwin County, said he also doubts the issue would be included either in a special session on redistricting or one on prisons. Prospects for taking it up during the regular session are complicated by the fact that it coincides with campaign season.

“I don’t see it happening in a special, and frankly, I don’t see leadership really moving this forward in an election year,” he said.

Elliott added that he would be willing to tackle it during the upcoming regular session, election or no.

“I don’t mind a hard lift in an election year,” he said. “I think sometimes that’s the best time to do it.”

Another factor, Elliott said, is that both the education and general funds are “flush” right now.

“Which is a good thing. But politically, it also means there’s not quite the need, if you will, the urgency to pass this legislation,” he said.

Albritton said the best bet might be in 2023. By then, the election will be in the rear-view mirror and there will be a new House speaker to replace incumbent Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia), who is stepping down. Plus, Albritton added, there likely will be many newly elected representatives.

“There’s going to be quite a bit of turnover, from what I hear,” he said.

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