Chairman gives preview to study group on gambling policy

Chairman gives preview to study group on gambling policy

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - The chair of the Governor’s Study Group for Gambling Policy, former Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange, said he anticipates both open and closed-door meetings aimed at gathering the facts about gambling and gaming in the state.

Strange said the goal is to look at best practices from around the state.

“No sense in re-inventing the wheel. Georgia obviously has had lottery for many, many, many years,” Strange said. “We know that Mississippi has had table gaming for a number of years. And so you know, what’s the lessons that they’ve learned?”

Gov. Kay Ivey signed an executive order in February creating the group after questions about a lottery and gaming in the state. Strange said the committee of 12 will listen to stakeholders from Alabama. He also wants to bring in experts who do not have an affiliation with the state.

“And so what we’re really focusing on is what does gaming look like and what are the upsides, but also what are the downsides," he said. “What are the costs associated with that, whether it be the lottery, or whether it be the table games, and now we’ve got a new animal with sports betting.”

For years, state lawmakers have toiled with whether to put a lottery on the ballot, the type of lottery, and where the money should go. Other concerns raised included local gaming entities like Victoryland and Greenetrack. Lawmakers representing those areas have signaled they want the best decision to support the economy.

The Poarch Band of Creek Indians has also announced a plan to generate millions of dollars for the state but receive exclusive gaming rights in return.

Strange said he is already receiving questions from people on the committee about the legality of gaming in the state.

“So it occurred to me one of the things we really need to do is to all of us get a baseline to what in fact is the legal status and why is the law applied in the way it’s applied,” he said.

There will be some closed-door meetings for attorney-client privilege purposes. Strange said even with this, he wants the committee to be transparent with the public.

“Finally trying to get to where we can capture some of the revenue that are going to so many other states. But we need to do it in a respectful manner," he said. "We need to do it certainly in a manner that everyone can benefit.”

Strange’s personal perspective is similar to the governor’s in that he does not believe in funding central government operations with gaming revenue.

“Fund like mental health, like expanded health care, maybe even prisons in some shape, form or fashion, but to be able to get that additional revenues that we just don’t have access to today," he said.

He anticipates the meetings will begin in March and continue once every month. Some of the meetings he believes will be both in person and via Facetime, since many of the members are located around the state. Strange said the group dissolves at the end of the year.

Strange has not determined whether there will be a report with the findings or recommendations submitted at the end of the committee. The committee will determine that in the future. It is possible the recommendations and/or report could be provided before the year is finished.

Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, said he plans to file an education lottery bill this session. Clouse has said he does not want to wait until the group reports its findings before filing it.

Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon said Thursday if a lottery passed committee he would put it on the House floor for debate.

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