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Alabama Senate set to begin gambling debate on Tuesday
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Alabama Senate set to begin gambling debate on Tuesday

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MONTGOMERY—The Alabama Senate will debate a gambling bill Tuesday, the bill’s sponsor said, marking the first major test of the proposal to start a lottery and have as many as eight casinos statewide.

However, Republican Sen. Del Marsh of Anniston said Monday that for now the bill is limited in the number of casinos across the state. The bill currently excludes smaller operators, including Houston County’s Crossing at Big Creek and another site in Lowndes County, that have asked to be included in the legislation.

Marsh said he expects his bill will come to the Senate floor Tuesday. The proposal, which must be approved by lawmakers and then state voters, would authorize a state lottery, five casinos locations and a compact with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians for casino games at their three sites in Atmore, Wetumpka and Montgomery.

Marsh stressed, however, that many final details were still under negotiation.

“One way or the other, a bill is coming out tomorrow and we are going to vote. That’s where I am,” Marsh said. “I’ve been optimistic since day one. I just think the mood is there to get something for the people to vote on.”

Senate Rules Chairman Jabo Waggoner, R-Vestavia Hills, was less certain the bill would get a vote Tuesday, saying it was a bit “up in the air” with last-minute negotiations and Marsh’s discussions with House members and others.

“Some of the senators don’t want to cast that vote knowing it is just going to die in the House,” Waggoner said.

Waggoner said he supported the idea of a lottery, but wanted to see the “final product” as far as the casino proposal.

The most recent version of the bill proposes establishing a state lottery and five casinos — one at four existing dog tracks plus a fifth site in north Alabama that would be run by the Poarch Band. It also would authorize a compact with the Poarch Band for casino games at their three existing sites that currently have electronic bingo machines.

Marsh said the governor was “very clear” that she didn’t want a large number of casinos in the state, but has previously noted that he would consider adding up to two more sites in southeastern and northern Alabama congressional districts.

Asked if the governor wants to limit the number of sites to five, a spokeswoman said, “Governor Ivey wants to be able to support the final gaming proposal from the Legislature” and “has expressed this to Senator Marsh and others, and we still have some work to be done.”

“Ultimately, we must be able to control and regulate gambling if it is going to be legal in Alabama, and the intention is certainly not to have a casino on every corner. The governor supports the people of Alabama having the final say,” Ivey spokeswoman Gina Maiola said in a text message.

Sen. Donnie Chesteen, of Geneva, previously told the Dothan Eagle that the bill would be hard to support without it including the Crossing at Big Creek, located on U.S. Highway 231 south of Dothan.

He also emphasized the importance of getting the enabling legislation and constitutional amendment aspects correct before the bill would get his vote.

Other local representatives have been hesitant to comment on the gaming package before the bill is finalized in the Senate.

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