There was plenty of advice Thursday for how the state of Alabama should run a lottery – if it ever decided to establish one.
Officials from lotteries in Louisiana and New Hampshire told the Governor’s Advisory Council on Gambling Thursday that any future lottery could benefit from being run by a private corporation with a mandate to fund education and efforts to treat gambling addiction.
“The dedication of that revenue (to education) at the outset is very important,” said Rose Hudson, president and CEO of the Louisiana Lottery Corporation and president of the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries. “It’s a selling point – it’s a point of accountability with your citizens and stakeholders.”
But if it was a detailed discussion, it was also somewhat abstract in a state where the creation of a lottery is no sure bet.
Alabama’s Constitution forbids lotteries and gambling. The Poarch Band of Creek Indians, a federally-recognized tribe, operate casinos in Atmore, Montgomery and Wetumpka regulated under federal law. Local amendments allow games of bingo in several counties, though the definition of bingo has become a point of contention between local officials and the Alabama Supreme Court.
Ongoing problems in the state’s General Fund budget, combined with legislators’ opposition or inability to raise new taxes, continue to bump legislators’ attention to gambling each year.
But getting a bill proponents can agree on has proven difficult, particularly in the face of determined opposition from opponents. A sweeping proposal to establish a lottery and gambling in Alabama in 2015 went nowhere. Last summer, a constitutional amendment that would have allowed Alabama voters to decide on a lottery collapsed over concerns from Senate Democrats that language in the bill would give the Poarch Band of Creek Indians a gaming monopoly at the expense of dogtrack operators, major employers in their districts.
Rep. Connie Rowe, R-Jasper, noted that the definition in the bill would have limited lotteries to paper tickets. Hudson said with technology changing, legislators need to be careful.
“You have to be careful with that definition now, because some of my colleagues are going online,” she said. “That definition of a piece of paper will be totally passé.”
Gov. Robert Bentley established the council by executive order earlier this year. The council will study the state’s gambling laws and make formal recommendations to the Legislature by Jan. 31. Democrats – who have long advocated gambling as a revenue stream – have prefiled gambling bills, but it is not clear how much time the Legislature will devote to the issue when they return in February.
The General Fund’s revenue problems come mainly from the low growth in most of the budget’s three dozen revenue sources. Experts warn that lotteries post flat growth year to year, and that a state lottery on its own is unlikely to address the General Fund’s woes. Louisiana, which has other forms of gambling, had more than $500 million in lottery ticket sales in the most recent fiscal year that concluded June 30. But its returns to the state decreased slightly, from about $184 million in fiscal year 2015 to $177 million this year.
Hudson recommended the state establish a separate corporation to manage a lottery. Her employees, she said, are not state employees, but public employees who are subject to state ethics laws.