Especially on the issue of gambling, Alabama state law always seems to be influx. This is largely due to changing attitudes, although at times ambivalent, about gambling. Currently, Alabama has no state lottery. Alabama residents who wish to play the lottery must buy tickets for a lottery in another state or for a multistate lottery. Traditional gambling games, such as blackjack and poker, are illegal. Through local referendums, municipalities are permitted to decide if games such as horse racing and off track betting will be allowed. Greyhound (dog) races are permitted, but actual gambling devices are illegal.
Interestingly, the State Constitution does not grant the legislature the ability to authorize lotteries. However, with increasing interest in gambling and in turn, resulting economic benefit from such activities, the legislature has enacted amendments to address the issue. For instance, Amendment 386 is the “Operation of Bingo Games by NonProfit Organizations in Jefferson County.” The amendment permits individuals above the age of 19 to play bingo provided that the game is offered by nonprofit or charitable organizations. Although for many people bingo has a certain meaning and people envision perhaps elderly people in a church or other community social setting playing the game, Alabama’s definition of bingo has been quite vague. As a result, further amendments have been needed to more clearly define what types of bingo gambling activities are and are not legal. On the one hand, the legislature has been tasked with creating laws that are consistent with respect to defining gambling and the parameters of how Alabama residents can play the game without running afoul of the state’s unclear and obscure laws and amendments. On the other hand, the legislature is also tasked with trying to do what it can to make Alabama a more prosperous state by pursuing economic growth activities such as encouraging gambling by increasing bingo participation.
Slot Machines in Alabama
The Constitution’s unclear language about gambling, specifically bingo, has allowed for casinos to introduce slot machines. However, unlike traditional slot machines, they are more like bingo machines that look like slot machines. So, they are not really games of chance as one would find in Atlantic City or Las Vegas, for instance. These machines are referred to as Class II “gaming devices” and while they appear to be slot machines, as already noted, they are not. The spinning reels give the effect of playing a real slot machine, which is likely done to make the player feel as if he or she is really in a traditional gambling atmosphere.
However, outside of Alabama, and for the average person, it is clear that while the state may prohibit most gambling, with the exception of games such as bingo, there is what seems to be a growing populist desire to legalize it. This only confuses matters, especially during election cycles. Alabama casinos are open twenty-four hours a day. They are currently owned and operated by American Indians, but this is not a requirement. Any such requirement only allowing casinos to be owned and operated by one racial group over others would be a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.
Recent Gambling Developments
An interesting development that bears mentioning is the fact that an Alabama-based gambling operator is seeking to pursue economic opportunities out of state, specifically in New York because there is such a lack of opportunity in Alabama. The operator, a friend of the Rev. Al Sharpton has decided to pursue opening a casino in the Catskills to give individuals more employment opportunities, especially youth, during the summer months, which is traditionally a time in which many young kids, particularly nowadays during the sluggish economy have difficulty finding work. If this happens, it will be a cautionary tale of the old adage that money walks and you know what talks. That is, people will go where there are opportunities. So, if money is to be made, it is likely beneficial to have that money stay in one’s state than leave it. This just may be the push that legislators need to jumpstart more serious action to further gambling opportunities in the state.
Alabama currently has three land based (Native American) casinos:
- Alabama Policy Institute. (2013). Strengthening Alabama’s Gambling Laws. Birmingham: Alabama Policy Institute.
- AmericanCasinoGuide.com. (2013, November 21). Alabama Casinos retrieved from ACG.
- FindLaw.com. (2014). Alabama Gambling Laws.
- Smith, C. (2013, March 22). Gambling, Bingo,and the Rule of Law. Retrieved from Alabama.com