- Associated Press - Thursday, December 24, 2015

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - In 1999, Alabama voted down the idea of creating a state lottery. Sixteen years later, some Alabama legislators say it’s time reconsider the idea.

Rep. Alan Harper, R-Northport, said he will introduce a lottery bill in the upcoming legislative session to put the idea to a public vote again.

“People have constantly asked us, ‘When are you going to let us vote on a lottery?” Harper said. “I think it’s time the people had their say.”

Former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman proposed a Georgia-style lottery to fund college scholarships and prekindergarten programs. Voters rejected the referendum.

Republican legislators in 1999 brought some of the staunchest opposition to Siegelman’s lottery bill during the debate. Republicans now hold majorities in both chambers of the Alabama Legislature and have never embraced gambling as a caucus. However, some Republicans appear to be warming to the idea, particularly after GOP legislators have faced difficulties putting together a state general fund budget without tax increases.

House Ways and Means General Fund Committee Chairman Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, said he favors the idea, if the money goes to the general fund.

“If you are going to do it, this is the year to do it - and let people vote on it in November,” Clouse said.

Harper said his bill would just put the question of creating a state lottery before voters. He said that where the money went could be decided later.

Forty-four states have lotteries. Only, Alabama, Mississippi, Utah, Nevada, Hawaii and Alaska do not.

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley won’t put a lottery on his legislative agenda, but said that it could provide a solution to the state’s perpetual general fund woes.

“I think that a lottery, certainly if it were a clean lottery, all designated for the general fund is something that hopefully the legislature will consider. That could be a long-term funding source for the general fund,” Bentley said this month.

Not all lawmakers are convinced.

Sen. Trip Pittman, chairman of the Senate general fund budget committee, said he was doubtful the idea would get serious consideration.

“I’m not sure gambling is the way we go in Alabama,” said Senate Rules Chairman Jabo Waggoner, R-Vestavia Hills.

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh said he will no longer sponsor legislation that would have called for a public vote on a lottery and full-blown casinos.

“There are probably a higher percentage of people that were open to the lottery than full-blown gambling. But it was never really tested so I don’t know if there is even really support for that. But we’ll see,” Marsh, R-Anniston, said.

Chip Hill, executive director of the Alabama Jobs Foundation, a group formed to support Marsh’s bill, said lawmakers should consider both.

“The Alabama Jobs Foundation will not support a standalone lottery referendum because a lottery alone will not create the jobs or economic impact we need to fix our long-term budget problems,” Hill said.

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