- Associated Press - Friday, August 19, 2016

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - Lottery legislation cleared the Alabama Senate on Friday as Gov. Robert Bentley pushes for the first statewide vote on a lottery in 17 years.

Senators approved the bill on a 21-12 vote, hitting exactly the 21 yes votes needed to approve the proposed constitutional amendment. The governor’s legislative victory keeps the bill alive in a special session on Medicaid funding, but it now moves to the Alabama House of Representatives where another close vote is expected.

“This is a vote for the right of the people to vote on an issue: They can decide whether or not they want a lottery in the state of Alabama to fund the essential services of government, primarily Medicaid,” Bentley said at a news conference after his Senate victory.

The approval came after a lengthy debate that included multiple attempts to amend the bill and highlighted lingering divisions over gambling.

Sen. Dick Brewbaker, R-Pike Road, said state-sponsored gambling will target the state’s poor and lotteries have not solved budget problems in other states, including those with much higher tax rates than Alabama.

“The bottom line is we know where the revenue is going to come from. Middle class and wealthy people do not get to be that way by gambling away their money,” Brewbaker said.

Sen. Quinton Ross, D-Montgomery, criticized opposition to gambling in the name of morality since Alabama is a state that places a sales tax on food.

“Every day we have citizens going into a store who must choose between medicine and food,” Ross said.

Fourteen Republicans and seven Democrats voted for the bill that Bentley projects would raise $225 million each year for the state general fund.

Alabama is one of six states - along with Mississippi, Utah, Alaska, Hawaii, and Nevada - without a state lottery. Voters in 1999 rejected then-Gov. Don Siegelman’s proposed lottery to fund education after the proposal came under heavy opposition from church groups and out-of-state gambling interests.

If lawmakers give final approval to the legislation, the proposal will go before voters later this year.

The bill must clear the Alabama Legislature by Wednesday in order to get the measure before voters during the Nov. 8 presidential election, a race guaranteed to have large voter turnout.

The legislation initially appeared stalled in the Alabama Senate. Sen. Jim McClendon, the bill’s sponsor, on Friday accepted numerous changes to the bill as he tried to pick up yes votes.

“That’s what made the bill pass,” McClendon said.

The first $100 million of lottery proceeds would be directly earmarked for Medicaid after one senator said he wanted a guarantee that the money would get to the health care program for the poor. The state would also be prohibiting from spending money on advertising for the lottery, although vendors could advertise the games.

The governor’s legislation was billed to lawmakers as the “simple” lottery bill, as opposed to broader legislation that would have allowed electronic gambling machines.

Senators approved Bentley’s lottery bill a day after delaying a vote on a bill that would have allowed electronic lottery terminals, which can be manufactured to resemble slot machines and video poker games, at six locations around the state.

Bentley on Friday said the state needed to fund Medicaid, “so we can take care of those in this state that cannot take care of themselves.”

“As I cross this state, I see people out there who are truly hurting. We have a half a million children in this state in poverty. They didn’t choose to be poverty,”

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