Alabama House Rules chair says legislators will look at gambling, vouchers, workforce in 2024

Rep. Joe Lovvorn, R-Auburn, is seen in the chamber of the Alabama House of Representatives on June 6. / Alabama Reflector photo by Stew Milne
Rep. Joe Lovvorn, R-Auburn, is seen in the chamber of the Alabama House of Representatives on June 6. / Alabama Reflector photo by Stew Milne

The chair of the powerful Alabama House Rules Committee last week said legislators would look at gambling, charter and voucher programs and the labor shortage in the legislative session scheduled to begin in February.

Rep. Joe Lovvorn, R-Auburn, the chair of the House Rules Committee, told county commissioners and directors at the Association of County Commissions of Alabama conference in Auburn on Wednesday that the state lacked a uniform approach to gambling.

"Anybody had any conversations or thoughts on gambling — we all do," he said. "Each of your counties have different aspects. Every county in the state has different thoughts of what is legal and what is illegal."

Both lotteries and games of chance are forbidden by the Alabama constitution. Local amendments allowed for electronic bingo, but the Alabama Supreme Court has read those amendments in narrow ways, making much if not all of the gambling in the state illegal.

The state constitution does not affect the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, a federally recognized tribe that operates casinos in Atmore, Montgomery and Wetumpka.

(READ MORE: Georgia lawmakers reject plans to legalize sports betting)

Alabama is the last state east of the Mississippi without a lottery. Attempts by the Legislature to establish a lottery or regulate gambling have fallen apart over mistrust between the Poarch Band and dog track operators and disputes over where legal gambling should be located.

Then-Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, proposed a bill in 2021 that in its initial form would have created a state lottery, authorized gambling at certain locations in the state and allowed sports betting. It collapsed amid disputes among House Republicans over the scope of the bill. No gambling bill has come as close to passage since.

Lovvorn on Wednesday denounced gambling, saying it was happening in Alabama without the regulatory infrastructure in place to oversee the industry.

"We have a lot of quasi-legal activity going on in our state that is being operated by people that may not be the best public stewards, that may not follow the rules that are already in place," he said. "And a lot of them are out of state, and our rules dealing with gaming are not strong enough."

Lovvorn referred to Alabama residents purchasing lottery tickets but said no one knows who is regulating those with the winning tickets or allocating the money to those who guessed the matching numbers.

From there, he pivoted to other types of gambling in which he took issue with and that had little regulation in place.

"These slot machines are popping up everywhere," he said. "A lot of them are made and manufactured and maintained by companies here in Alabama. If we want to have this type of gaming, that is something for the people to decide."

(READ MORE: States that have wagered the most on sports betting since the ban was lifted in 2018)

Ethics is another issue legislators want to address. Rep. Matt Simpson, R-Daphne has taken the lead as chair of the House Ethics and Campaign Finance. The committee has convened a handful of times to get background information on the history of the ethics laws developed for Alabama.

Members will review the information and use it to draft legislation to update the ethics rules for elected officials.

"We need to clarify that, so we all know what rules to follow," Lovvorn said.

Lovvorn also said the Legislature would look at education issues.

"The governor has laid out a plan where she wants to have an education savings account, often called a voucher program, that allows parents to use state funds to send their children to a school of their choice," he said.

A similar bill did not pass during the previous session.

"We will be spending a lot of time speaking and working through how to make that work so that parents who are looking for an option that is better for children, how we can fix that and not impact other systems," Lovvorn said.


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