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Alabama Changes Its Tune On Sports Betting

It’s too late to place bets on the outcome of this year’s Super Bowl – but sports enthusiasts may have the opportunity to do so next year if Rep. Mary Moore gets her way. The politician has recently had a change of heart when it comes to the topic of allowing Alabama’s residents to bet on the outcome of sporting contests – and it seems that she may be starting to win over the hearts and minds of some of her colleagues. Two short months ago, it looked highly unlikely that we’d see sports betting introduced in the Heart of Dixie within the next twelve months, but now – for want of a better phrase- it might be foolish to bet against it.

Sports betting has been legal in the United States of America ever since the Supreme Court issued a crucial ruling on the issue in 2018, clearing the way for the practice to be legalized on a state-by-state basis. The states that have thus far taken advantage of that freedom are reporting huge taxable revenue figures. Where sports betting has been introduced, controlled, and executed correctly, it’s provided vital money for public services while at the same time seeming to avoid most of the issues that opponents of the idea said would come with more gambling. Gambling addiction issues in states like New Jersey haven’t gotten any worse. In fact, now that routes to assistance are available more freely, you could make an argument that the situation has improved.

With obvious financial successes elsewhere and potentially billions of dollars on the table, it’s easy to see why Alabama (or any other state) would be tempted to jump on the bandwagon and open itself up, but until now, lawmakers and politicians have been reluctant. Alabama has some of the most contradictory gambling laws in the country. In theory, online slots websites are legal, and gambling is permitted. In practice, there isn’t even a state lottery, and nobody has ever been given permission to operate a new slots site from within Alabama. Residents are welcome to go and play slots in the flesh at one of several officially licensed casinos, but the convenience of playing online slots from home isn’t available to Alabamans. Similarly, there isn’t currently a specific law that would prevent sports betting from being introduced in the state, but nor is there a declaration anywhere in state law that suggests it can be introduced immediately without impediment. Somebody is going to have to make a ruling on the issue – and Rep. Mary Moore might be the person who makes it happen.

By her own admission, Rep. Moore had a ‘Eureka’ moment when she was in Las Vegas several years ago. Sports betting has been legal in Vegas for a long time, and she was struck by how much money sports fans were betting on Alabama football games. It crossed her mind then that if people in Vegas were willing to bet big money on Alabama teams, people who lived in the state were likely to bet far more. It was a moot point back then – there was no legal framework that would have made sports betting possible in Alabama at the time, and so Moore had no means of bringing it to the table. She filed the thought at the back of her mind and apparently left it there until she heard that almost seven billion dollars were spent across the country by people betting on the Super Bowl alone. She’s even worked with Rep. John Rogers to table a bill that would have created a commission to introduce sports betting in the state, although that bill failed to attract significant support, and has since stalled.

Where Moore and Rogers have failed in the past, though, they may now succeed with the assistance of Governor Kay Ivey. The Governor has always been reluctant to get directly involved in the issue in the past, stating that it’s a matter for legislature, but within the past month appears to have relaxed her stance a little. A committee has now been formed to ‘fully investigate’ the potential of introducing sports betting in Alabama, and they’ll be tasked with finding out whether the one billion dollar revenue figure that some people claim Alabama is currently missing out on is a realistic prospect or not. Governor Ivey has been vocal about the fact that the state needs more money if it is to pay for additional state troopers, improve education standards, and provide better access to broadband in rural areas. All are long-held ambitions of hers, and can only be realized if additional income is found from somewhere. In that respect, sports betting could be a quick win for the Governor.

If there is to be sports betting in Alabama, a delicate and possibly difficult conversation will have to happen between the state’s politicians and the Poarch Band of Creek Indians who, as the state’s tribe, have extensive exclusivity rights when it comes to all gambling activity within Alabama. It’s likely that they would oppose the introduction of any online form of sports betting in the state, just as they’ve opposed online slots websites being allowed to operate in the past. On the other hand, they could likely fully support the idea of sports betting being permitted in casinos that they already own and operate, as it would be a huge boost to their own income. State tribes in other states have already profited via the same mechanism, and many of them now have exclusivity on sports betting just as they had exclusivity on the majority of casino games in the past.

Ultimately, plenty of Alabamans already bet on the outcome of sports games, as we all know. Some of them do so illegally and run the risk of prosecution. Others go outside the state to place bets on sports, and so whether they win or lose, the money that passes through their hands ends up outside Alabama instead of staying in the state and contributing to worthwhile projects and causes. It seems likely that every American state will open its arms to sports betting at some point – it’s just a question of what order they go in, and how long it takes them to do it. If we accept that it’s an inevitability, it wouldn’t make sense to deliberately put Alabama at the back of that queue.

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