Now that lottery bills have again entered the Alabama Legislature, let’s talk the truth about our state and state-run lotteries.
We’re surrounded by lotteries. Tennessee has a lottery. Georgia has a lottery. Florida has a lottery. Mississippi has OK’ed a lottery that will start soon. We’re a dysfunctional Deep South holdout.
Alabama doesn’t have a lottery because we’re Alabama. That is, politics, lobbyists, money and others (read: the Poarch Band of Creek Indians and our neighboring states) act as a boa constrictor that squeezes the democracy and logic out of these conversations. NASA may put a human on Mars before Alabamians cast an up-or-down vote on the lottery.
Lotteries are fraught with negativity. They’re regressive actions whose worst traits affect the poor more than the rich. They can affect gambling addictions and individuals’ monetary health. And for a state whose leading politicians have struggled with the basics of ethical behavior, importing this form of legalized gambling into Alabama should be no small concern.
Lotteries are advertised as financial gold mines. That’s often true. But every state that operates its lottery in smart fashion requires iron-clad oversight of the revenues — and still it undergoes constant political debate about the best use of the money.
Lotteries aren’t a magic solution to a state’s fiscal woes. They are a potential tool for the toolbox. They can boost a budget or pay for a statewide improvement. They can help. But a lottery won’t transform Alabama’s state budgets into 21st-century monoliths devoid of deficiencies.
So, where does that leave us?
Ostensibly, in the same place we’ve always been. State Sen. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, is introducing legislation that gives Alabamians the chance to vote on a lottery. (He’s done this before, and it hasn’t worked.) McClendon’s legislation also includes provisions for splitting the revenue between the General Fund and the Education Trust Fund; establishing a lottery commission; and guidelines on which games of chance would be legal.
The Poarch Band of Creek Indians, which operates casinos on tribal land in Alabama, isn’t a fan of McClendon’s legislation. Go figure. On Twitter, the Poarch Creeks said they appreciated the senator’s efforts, but “the bill introduced today does not fit the definition of a ‘clean’ bill. It does not give citizens an opportunity to cast one vote on one issue — whether we should have a traditional lottery in our state. Instead, the bill is cluttered with provisions that will expand private gaming operations in a few parts of the state owned by a handful of individuals.”
In other words, the Poarch Creeks are protecting their own interests. No surprise there.
There’s still much to learn about McClendon’s proposal before giving a thumbs-up. But it’s beyond time for the Legislature to allow Alabamians a say in this recurring argument in our politics. That we support.