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Sports betting in Alabama

As you’d expect from a state run by slap happy religious fundamentalists, gambling in Alabama is for the most part illegal. The state codified their prohibition in the 1901 State Constitution where they established the defined gambling as “any game for financial gain with an element of chance.” The problem here is that every game, or anything else in life for that matter, comes with an ‘element of chance’. No one in the past century has been particularly inclined to amend the state constitution or even refine the definition of ‘gambling’. In a state with so little separation of church and state it would likely be political suicide to do so.

Here’s where it gets strange—parimutuel wagering on horse and dog racing got an exemption from the 1901 Constitutional gambling ban. The rationale is that the sport is based ‘entirely on the skill’ of the horse and jockey and thus not a game of chance. This is news to anyone who has ever bet on a horse race and had some random event cost them a chance to cash a big winning ticket. Nevertheless, racing is legal both on track and via simulcast. That being said, don’t head down to the ‘Heart of Dixie’ and expect to spend some time at the track playing the ponies as there are none operating within the state.

There is simulcast racing available at one location—the Birmingham Race Course Dog Track offers both live greyhound racing and simulcast racing on dogs and horses. The track’s future is tenuous, however, and there’s little to suggest that live horse racing will ever return to Alabama. Adding insult to injury, the major advance deposit simulcast wagering sites won’t accept Alabama residents due to the state’s restrictive laws.

Interestingly, the justification used for the legality of parimutuel wagering could be used at some point to legalize sportsbooks within the state. Depending on how this was constructed, it could become another much needed gaming option for residents and serve to revitalize the parimutuel industry. Nothing is on the table at this time, but at some point the revenue influx might be too much to ignore.

Depending on when and where you check, electronic bingo games have been allowed and banned at various points in the state’s recent history. There was a brief time that ‘Internet cafes’ offered ‘sweepstakes games’ but the state Supreme Court eventually ruled that they were covered by the 1901 ban. Additionally, there have been attempts to offer video ‘pull tab’ type games which might construed to be legal under state law as ‘raffle games’.

Alabama has a few Native American casinos but they are very limited in the games they’re allowed to offer due to the state’s restrictive gaming laws. You won’t find table games at Alabama casinos, nor will you find Las Vegas style slots or video poker. The only games that are legal are Class II video gaming machines—these may often look like traditional slot machines but the spinning reels and other gameplay are simply for ‘entertainment purposes’ only. The machines are actually highly complex electronic bingo games, meaning that no matter what the machine might look like you’re actually playing bingo against other players at the casino.

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