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Alabama Legislator Proposes Gaming Commission

Bryant-Denny Stadium Tuscaloosa Alabama
A general view of Bryant-Denny Stadium during the game between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Arkansas Razorbacks in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images/AFP

It isn’t often lawmakers propose to create a commission to govern an industry that has not been regulated in the state unless such an industry is on its way.

In Alabama, a gaming commission is being discussed, but legalizing sports betting is seemingly not the objective.

Speculation About Regulation

Alabama is one of the most conservative states in the union, as evidenced by it being one of only five states that does not have a state lottery with Alaska, Hawaii, Nevada, and Utah being the others.

Although Nevada is far from conservative, the casinos that built the Silver State and continue to provide it with billions of dollars didn’t take kindly to competing with its own government for the state’s gambling dollars and the legislators listened.

Therefore, it’s surprising that Representative Andy Whitt and House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter have recently raised the specter of a state gaming commission to curb illegal gambling in the state and examine the benefits of regulating it. Many believe it is the latter that has much more to do with this proposed commission than the former.

States get much more vigilant about policing industries in which they are getting a cut of the profits. If a state licenses and regulates online sports betting, then it is certainly in its best interest, and the interest of the sportsbook paying thousands if not millions of dollars to operate, to ferret out any illegal competition because those entities are taking money away from the mobile sportsbooks and, by default, the state.

But if no sports betting industry exists in the state, then any money being made by these illegal books is not money coming out of the state’s pockets. Certainly, it can be criminally investigated, but there is no need to form a commission to ask questions about illegal gambling if the answers are already known.

Illegal Operations Run Rampant

Early in September, Speaker Ledbetter spoke about the correlation between the lack of regulated gambling spawning illegal gambling in Alabama.

In an interview with PBS, Ledbetter said, “I think the most shocking thing to me, we talked about this last time, that there are like 30 illegal operations. By the time we got through, somebody said, well, maybe there’s 70 now. One county has 67.

What we’re finding is that just about every county has got some illegal gaming operation. The problem with it is now, where we’re at today, if we do not do something about it and regulate it, then all we are doing is enabling illegal gambling.

It’s gotten so rampant that until we do something about it, it’s a little scary because it’s almost like a criminal organization that is running these operations. Without true regulations, without a commission to support it and try to stop them, it’s going to continue to grow.

Let’s be honest. There is more out there than what the attorney general can address. I do think that with regulation there ought to be an enforcement piece with that.”

Is This the Right Move?

Representative Chris Blackshear was a bit more transparent about the need for creating a commission, and it had much more to do with solving the problem of illegal gambling by legalizing it, taxing it, and ultimately driving out the black market.

Opponents have said that regulating and licensing it would expand gambling, but Blackshear disagrees.

“We don’t need to expand gambling, it’s already here,” Blackshear said. “Getting a grasp of how many of those exist is also a goal of the group. It’s unregulated, the state is getting no revenue from it and if we don’t get a handle on it now, we never will.”

Greg Davis, president of the anti-gaming organization Alabama Citizens Action Program (ALCAP), believes the gambling commission is simply a “smokescreen”—lawmakers just want to legalize gambling.

Davis is right about it being a smokescreen, he knows that forming a commission could be the initial step in what can be a long road to ultimately launching sports betting, even in a conservative state like Alabama.

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