Florida has one. So does Tennessee and Georgia. Mississippi doesn’t, but it has casino gambling, which more than covers what a lottery would bring in.
And here sits Alabama. An island of apparent moral superiority in a sea of sin and squalor.
In truth, Alabama has no reason to puff out its chest and claim the high ground. Alabamians gamble. We have Indian casinos. We have a dog track. More Georgia lottery tickets are sold at outlets on the Alabama state line than at any other sites. And you can bet that during the height of the college bowl season that our residents become bookies’ best friends.
Our state and private retirement funds bet on the stock market. And the state Legislature invests large sums of public money to entice industries to locate here, hoping that gamble will pay off.
That’s why some ask, why not a lottery?
That is the question House Minority Leader Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, will raise when he introduces a lottery bill when the Legislature convenes Jan. 14.
Alabama voters rejected a lottery plan in 1999 when conservative Christians and rising Republicans seized the issue to bash the Democratic governor and his legislative allies. Today, that defeat is looked on as an important step in cementing the alliance that put the GOP in power in Alabama.
But the victory was tainted by out-of-state gambling money used to finance Alabama’s anti-gambling forces and prevent the state from becoming a competitor. Nevertheless, Ford is going to give it another try.
Under his bill, the money raised by a lottery (he estimates $262 million the first year) will be divided into two funds. A fund of $50 million would provide security for public schools (a popular cause today) and the rest would underwrite a Georgia-style college scholarship program — but without the guarantee of full tuition that has gotten Georgia’s Hope Scholarship in trouble recently.
When the Legislature takes up the matter, pros and cons again will be debated and the two sides will appeal to emotions as well as economics, as they have in the past.
If history is any judge, the Legislature will also kick the ball to the people to decide. Which, in this case, is where it should be settled.