MONTGOMERY (TAB) — Gov. Robert Bentley confirmed July 27 that he will be bringing a statewide lottery proposal to the special session that will begin Aug. 15.
The goal of the session is to find funding for the $85 million Medicaid shortage, and Bentley’s announcement this morning comes as no surprise.
“Montgomery doesn’t have all the answers. Let’s hear from the people from this great state on whether the time has come to approve a statewide lottery,” he said.
The Alabama Baptist reported in the July 28 issue that a state lottery is 1 of 4 possible solutions to the budget shortfalls, and if Bentley’s proposal is approved in the special session then lawmakers will have to move fast, completing the session by Aug. 24, to get the measure on the November ballot.
In his announcement, Bentley promised to present “clean and simple legislation” that did not allow for any other form of gambling.
The problem with Bentley’s promise, however, is the fact that under Alabama law a lottery is defined as any game of chance. And that, according to Birmingham lawyer Eric Johnston, can open the floodgates.
“If we pass a law (legalizing a state lottery), that means the Legislature can have any kind of gambling,” said Johnston, who also represents the Alabama Policy Institute and Alabama Citizen’s Action Program.
“The exact wording of the bills is very deceptive, very subtle,” he said. Blackjack, Roulette, any game of chance technically falls under Alabama’s legal definition of “lottery.”
“We need to understand exactly what we’re voting on. … It’s not just going to the convenience store and buying a ticket. It can be that and then going down the street to the casino.”
Bentley has previously said he doesn’t believe a lottery is the best way to fund a state government. In a July 28 op-ed for the Montgomery Advertiser, he likens a lottery to an out-of-fashion leisure suit — it was very popular at one time, but now it has “lost its luster.”
Bentley believes all other options have been exhausted, however, making a lottery “the best leisure suit we’ve got.”
According to Bentley, a state lottery is expected to generate $225 million annually.
That total is an estimate based on the historical experience of lotteries in other states similar in size to Alabama, according to Yasamie August, Bentley’s press secretary and National Governor’s Association coordinator.
For the full story on possible solutions to the Medicaid shortfall, go to thealabamabaptist.org.
To watch Bentley’s full announcement, go to governor.alabama.gov.
To contact your representative or senator, go to capwiz.com.
Updated at 11:29 a.m. with comments from Eric Johnston.
Updated July 29 at 5:32 p.m. with special session date and input from Gov. Bentley.