Alabama Considering A County-By-County Approach To Sports Betting

Posted on February 25, 2020 - Last Updated on March 20, 2020

A bill to legalize Alabama sports betting appears to be dead on arrival in the state’s legislature. Regardless, it gives some insight into how that process may fare in the future.

The bill, HB301, is similar to an attempt to legalize wagering upon sporting events in a nearby state. If this follows the same trajectory, some adjustments are necessary.

Alabama sports betting takes its first breaths

The bill is pretty short and sweet. The three pages contain just a few paragraphs of text.

If it were to become law as currently written, it would be up to lawmakers and voters in Alabama’s 67 counties to determine for themselves whether to allow legal wagering within their communities. The bill doesn’t prescribe whether that decision should be made via local ordinances or popular votes.

If Alabama ultimately goes that route, it would make the state unique. So far, none of the states to legalize betting has created a landscape where the matter of legality could vary from one part of the state to another.

Alabama isn’t the first state to attempt this, however. Another nearby state has used a similar model that prioritizes local autonomy.

From the Bayou to the Heart of Dixie

Last year, lawmakers in Louisiana proposed a very similar bill. It would have left the decision of legalization up to a popular vote in each of the state’s 64 parishes.

That push for legalization ultimately failed, however. Louisiana may still end up going that route in the future. A similar bill has already been pre-filed for the next session there.

If Alabama ultimately goes this route, the votes could vary sharply across rural and urban lines. That was the case in Colorado during its statewide vote on its law that has legalized wagering.

Although Alabama has no major metropolitan areas, the counties closest to Auburn University and the University of Alabama would likely vote to legalize. Overall support in the more sparsely populated areas is one of the things that a state-commissioned study will consider.

Alabama’s governor’s action on gambling expansion

Earlier this month, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey selected volunteers to conduct a study of the potential impacts of legal gambling in her state. Currently, the Alabama Constitution outlaws all forms of gambling, even a state lottery.

In addition to the lottery, the study will consider allowing a tribal bingo house in the state to offer slots and table games. In her announcement, Ivey made no mention of sports betting.

Because of that, it’s unlikely that HB301 will pass before the current legislative term ends. The theme in Montgomery seems to be that no action will be taken on gambling expansion until after the study concludes.

Right now, this bill seems to be a non-starter. That doesn’t mean that legal sports betting will never come to Alabama, however.

This bill may represent a simple foreshadowing of more to come later. Alabama could eventually resemble Tennessee in that it offers legal online sports betting and if that happens, the process of making that change could be traced back to HB301.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a freelance journalist who resides in Chicago. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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