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Wanna Bet? Don’t Do It in Alabama

Here comes football but betting is still out of bounds.
 

It is almost time for another season of Alabama’s favorite sport: college football. And that will be accompanied by what might be the state’s second-favorite sport: gambling on college football.

For decades, an unconfirmed statistic has floated around that Alabama has more illegal sports betting per capita than any other state in the nation. Regardless of the actual numbers, there seems to be little doubt that many members of this football-crazed community often have considerably more riding on the games than mere bragging rights.

So in the wake of May’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowing states in addition to Nevada to authorize sports gambling, Alabama would appear to have a built-in market ready for the kickoff of legal wagering on football. Delaware and New Jersey began offering sports betting within a month of the ruling, and Mississippi appears to be close to joining them. All told, nearly half the states in the U.S. already have proposed legislation legalizing sports gambling or plans to give it a go.

In Alabama, however, there will be at least a one-year delay of this game, if not longer. State law currently prohibits sports betting, and the absolute earliest that could even begin to change would be in March, with the opening of the 2019 legislative session.

“The U.S. Supreme Court decision is not about whether sports gambling should be legal, but whether states should have the right to decide that question for themselves,” Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said in a statement. “In Alabama, sports gambling is already against the law, and the court ruling does not alter that fact.”

That ban also remains in effect at the few places in the state where other types of gambling are permitted, such as Atmore’s Wind Creek Casino, owned by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. While electronic gaming is allowed at Wind Creek, casino officials released a statement saying the Supreme Court ruling, “will have no effect on our operations (since) Alabama state law prohibits sports betting.”

In order for that to change, the current law will have to be repealed or amended, a process that Alabama Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, says includes a public referendum. “It’s just like with the (proposed) lottery. It has to go to a vote of the people, because you have to have a constitutional amendment to allow it,” Ward says.

It’s a safe bet there’ll be plenty of gambling talk when the Legislature meets, if only because of all the lure of easy money. Nevada, where sports betting has been legal since the 1950s, received nearly $5 billion in wagers in 2017. Overall, the American Gaming Association estimates that approximately $145 billion is wagered illegally each year in the U.S.

“I have no doubt that we’ll see this issue when we come back into session next year,” Ward says. “Proponents will see how it goes in other states. It’s going to be an uphill fight, because it’s still very controversial. But it will definitely be debated.”

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