This week, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed an executive order that installed a 12-person study group to examine expanded gambling options for the state.
The newly formed group is a diverse representation of Alabama residents aiming to carry out research on the effects of looser gaming regulations in the state. Among those participating are business leaders, public officials, lawyers and a Methodist minister.
Full Alabama committee membership
The group’s 12 members are:
- Todd Strange — A former Montgomery mayor.
- Rey Almodóvar — A Huntsville CEO.
- Deborah Barnhart — CEO emerita of the US Space and Rocket Center.
- Walter Bell — A global insurance executive.
- Regina Benjamin — A former US Surgeon General.
- Young Boozer — A former Alabama state treasurer.
- Sam Cochran — Mobile County sheriff.
- Liz Huntley — A Birmingham attorney.
- Carl Jamison — A third-generation shareholder in one of the state’s largest accounting firms.
- Justice Jim Main — A former Alabama Supreme Court justice.
- Phil Rawls — A former state political reporter for the Associated Press.
- Bishop B. Mike Watson — The ecumenical officer for the United Methodist Church’s Council of Bishops.
As part of the announcement, Ivey specified “Ultimately, I believe the final say belongs to the people of Alabama. As their governor, I want them to be fully informed of all the facts so that, together, we can make the best decision possible.” She would go on to say, “I am committed to, once and for all, getting the facts so that the people of Alabama can make an informed decision on what has been a hotly debated topic for many years.” And later said that “Without a doubt, there will be ramifications if we eventually expand gaming options in our state, just as there are costs associated with doing nothing.”
The group has yet to convene, and it has not scheduled a first meeting. Ivey has requested the group deliver its findings by the end of the year.
Potential voter referendum
State Rep. Steve Clouse pushed back on Ivey’s call for a focus group to look harder at the topic. Clouse is a member of the Alabama House Ways and Means General Fund Committee. The state representative told WVNN radio in Huntsville that a lottery referendum would likely take place in November. Alabama expects high voter turnout as a result of the presidential election and a contested US Senate seat.
As part of the interview, he said, “If you want to do a commission, that’s fine, but it should have been done six or seven months ago so it would be ready to go by the time we went into session. And even at that, I still don’t agree that the lottery should be a part of it. There are certainly a lot of things they can study with the Indian compact situation and with the local legislation that affects Greene and Macon, and Jefferson County dog tracks and Lowndes County. I mean, they’ll certainly have their plate full with those issues. But I just don’t think a lottery should be a part of it.”
With the United Methodist Churches carrying significant weight in the state, conservative views on the lottery are particularly opposed to any efforts toward legalization. Labeled as a “menace to society,” gambling is highly frowned upon among church members. According to the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church, there are approximately 700 congregations and 147,000 individuals in the conference. There are approximately 600 congregations and 148,000 individuals in the Alabama-West Florida Conference. Methodists make up roughly 10% of the total population of Alabama. The Baptist population dwarfs the Methodists, with 42% of the state’s residents making up that demographic. Baptists are also staunchly against any form of gambling. However, no Baptist ministers are serving on Ivey’s focus group.
Still, the church encourages parishioners to minister to those suffering from problem gambling. An official policy on gambling states: “The Church’s prophetic call is to promote standards of justice and advocacy that would make it unnecessary and undesirable to resort to commercial gambling — including public lotteries, casinos, raffles, internet gambling, gambling with an emerging wireless technology, and other games of chance — as a recreation, as an escape, or as a means of producing public revenue or funds for support of charities or government.”
Whether this is an earnest attempt at identifying a new revenue stream for the state and social services or placating the less-devout population of the state, it remains to be seen what conclusions the focus group will reach.