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Alabama gambling legislation heads to conference committee

Legislation that would authorize a lottery and other types of gambling in Alabama is headed to a conference committee as lawmakers try to bridge divisions over sports betting and the number of casino sites.

The Alabama House of Representatives voted Thursday to reject Senate changes to gambling legislation and go to a conference committee to try to negotiate a compromise. Lawmakers are trying to find common ground between a sweeping House-passed plan that would include sports betting and up to 10 casinos with table games and a scaled-back version of the bill, which excluded sports betting and allowed fewer casinos, that was approved by the Alabama Senate.

State House member Chris Blackshear, the House sponsor of the bill, told representatives that he believed the Senate was leaving the potential for hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue "on the floor" with the scaled-back bill. Blackshear said he is hopeful that lawmakers can reach an agreement, but he also acknowledged there is a vast difference between what the two chambers approved.

"I think we've got to identify what that middle ground is first because it's such a distance between the two. They're not even close bookends. So we've got to first off establish what that middle ground looks like and then have those conversations," Blackshear said.

House members had approved a proposed constitutional amendment to allow a state lottery, sports-betting at in-person sites and online platforms, and up to 10 casino sites with table games and slot machines. The Senate plan eliminated sports betting and reduced the number of potential casino sites.

The Senate version would allow a state lottery, electronic wagering machines at dog tracks and several other locations and require the governor to negotiate a compact with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. A compact could pave the way for the tribe to have full-fledged casinos with table games at its three sites in the state.

Any gambling proposal would have to be approved by both three-fifths of lawmakers and a majority of voters. Alabamians have not voted on gambling since a proposed lottery was rejected in 1999.

House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter said in a statement that he was hopeful that lawmakers will find a compromise.

"If one thing has been made clear throughout this process, it's that the people of Alabama want and deserve an opportunity to vote on this issue," Ledbetter said.

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