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Alabama Considers Lottery In Wake Of ‘Mega Millions Fever’

James Murphy
by in Lottery on
  • The nationwide Mega Millions Lottery Jackpot will be an estimated $790 million for Tuesday’s drawing.
  • Mega Millions games are available in 45 US states plus the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Alabama is not one of them.
  • The odds of winning the Mega Millions Jackpot are just over 1 in 302.5 million

The Mega Millions Lottery Jackpot has swelled to $790 Million US making it the third largest ever offered in the multi-state networked game. The public interest in that–along with the ensuing media coverage–has made this a good time for states looking to expand gambling to make their plans known. One of the most intriguing of the current crop is the proposal to add a lottery in one of the most gambling resistant states in the country–Alabama.

As you’d expect in a state run primarily by religious kooks that the mainstream would have considered ‘backwards’ in the 18th century gambling is essentially illegal in Alabama. There are a few minor–and in some cases strange–exceptions. A blanket ban was issued in the 1901 State Constitution which also defined gambling broadly as ‘any game for financial gain with an element of chance’.

One of the few exceptions? Parimutuel wagering which got an exemption in the 1901 definition. The rationale is that the outcome is ‘based entirely on skill’ of the horse and jockey and thus not a ‘game of chance’. Interestingly, that same rationale could have been used to approve sports betting (among other things) though no one has ever attempted to do so. There only parimutuel track in the state was the Birmingham Race Course Dog Track but it ceased live racing in 2020. From time to time, it has floated plans of reviving horse racing and dog racing but I’ll believe it when I see it. It still operates as a simulcasting facility and they now bill themselves as a casino. They’ve added historical horse racing games and also advertise ‘sports parlays’ on their website. I tried to find out how they do the sports parlays but to no avail and I have no interest in going to Alabama to see first hand.

There are a few Native American casinos in the state that offer only Class II video gaming devices. No table games allowed. At various points electronic bingo games have been allowed elsewhere in the state and there have been attempts to allow video ‘pull tab’ games under the state law’s exemption for ‘raffle games’

So why the lottery? In a state prostrate to religious doctrine it can easily be explained as ‘greed’ and ‘envy’. The ‘greed’ is the ongoing desperation of government for more revenue–and particularly that which can be gained without further fleecing the entire population via a tax increase. The ‘envy’ is felt by Alabama lawmakers when they look around the region and see their citizens streaming over borders to buy lottery tickets in other states. That has given a good deal of concern to stores that exist along the state border to supply this demand some degree of concern over their future.

Although the ‘will of the people’ is a laughable concept to government, lottery proponent Jim McClendon is refreshingly going that route with his legislation and not the duplicitous ‘need the revenue to help the state’ route:

“My motivation is not to solve fiscal problems in Alabama. There’s not enough money in the universe.”

McClendon unsuccessfully introduced lottery legislation back in 2016. Alabamans are still streaming across borders to buy tickets. The first change necessary would be an amendment to the aforementioned 1901 Constitutional prohibition on gambling.

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