Bingo bill short of votes needed to pass Alabama House

Bingo bill short of votes needed to pass Alabama House

MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- A constitutional amendment that would legalize video bingo machines in Alabama is six to 10 votes short of the total needed to pass the Alabama House, according to most representatives contacted by the Press-Register.

But some lawmakers who currently oppose the measure said they could vote for it if changes were made to the version passed by the Senate late last month. A handful of those swing votes are Mobile lawmakers.

"To be honest with you, I think the Mobile delegation is going to have a huge say on this," said Rep. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster.

A House committee this morning will consider the proposal, which, if passed in this legislative session, would then be decided by voters in a statewide referendum later this year.

Marcel Black, a Tuscumbia Democrat handling the constitutional amendment in the House, said he expects the committee to pass it, and the full House to vote Wednesday.

Black said he hasn't done a "member-by-member vote count," but he expressed cautious optimism that the measure would garner the 63 votes needed to pass the 105-member House.

"I think the vote is close. I always expected it to be close," Black said. "At the end of the day, I believe we'll have the votes (for passage)."

View full size(File)"I don't think that there's enough votes in the House," said Rep. Jamie Ison, R-Mobile, who opposes the current bingo bill but says she could vote for it with changes.Few other lawmakers agree with that count.

"I don't think that there's enough votes in the House," said Rep. Jamie Ison, R-Mobile.

The issue breaks roughly along party lines, with most Republicans opposing the bill and most Democrats supporting it. Members of Mobile County's mostly Republican delegation could buck that trend, however. Some say that the area could see particular benefit from the legalization of video bingo at Mobile Greyhound Park.

At least three Mobile County Republicans -- Ison, Rep. Jim Barton and Rep. Spencer Collier -- said they oppose the current version of the bill but could vote for it with some changes.

Among their suggested additions were:

A limit on the number of gambling halls allowed to have video bingo machines.

A large license fee and a requirement that casinos invest significant sums -- at least nine figures -- to make their venues into major tourist destinations.

A stronger state commission to regulate gambling.

A fourth Mobile County Republican -- Rep. Chad Fincher of Semmes -- said he is also against the current bill but could vote for it with some of those changes, as well as a bid process for the right to open casinos.

However, gambling supporters have strongly opposed adding the bid requirement.

Black said "there's always a possibility" that some changes could be made to the Senate bill, but he added that he doesn't think changes will be made prior to a vote of the full House.

"I expect to bring the bill as it came from the Senate," Black said.

The current bill sets few rules and guidelines for the operation of video bingo gambling halls. Instead, the proposal mandates that lawmakers craft those rules in a special legislative session, should voters approve the constitutional amendment.

Several lawmakers said Republican Gov. Bob Riley or members of his staff asked their positions on the bill and lobbied them to vote against it. Riley Press Secretary Todd Stacy declined to comment about contact with lawmakers.

Meanwhile, some pro-gambling lobbying activities are the subject of a federal investigation, made public in recent weeks.

Stacy said he thought the investigation, as well as problems with the bill itself, would make passage unlikely.

Black said he hopes the investigation won't make a difference in the House vote.

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