Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Opinion | No casinos, no lotteries, no parlays: Keep gambling illegal

CW File

In 2024, people are placing bets on just about anything, including whether Taylor Swift would announce she’s pregnant with Travis Kelce’s child at the Super Bowl (she did not).

Well, not in Alabama. 

Here in Alabama, gambling is legal only in casinos run by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians and a few places, primarily dog tracks, where it’s been approved by local constitutional amendments.

Forty-five states, including my home state of Virginia, run lotteries. Alabama does not.

But there’s a growing consensus across the political aisle that Alabama’s restrictions on gambling are too restrictive.

Last year, The Crimson White published Victor Hagan’s case for a state lottery. His claim that a state lottery “could provide additional funds to public classrooms” is fairly typical of the pro-gambling crowd’s arguments.

Ask Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, state Rep. Chris Blackshear or state Rep. James Lomax: They will all tell you that the schoolchildren need us to make it easier to gamble.

Would legalizing gambling actually help improve Alabama’s pitiful public education system?

Maryland legalized casino gambling in 2008 and mandated that most of the revenue would go toward the state’s Education Trust Fund. What actually happened? The new casinos kept getting more tax breaks and more concessions until private casinos were getting most of the revenue, not schools.

And the revenue that did go toward schools? It didn’t increase school funding, it just replaced the already existing sources. Schools kept struggling with budget deficits despite the “additional” funding.

There is absolutely no reason to expect it would play out any differently in Alabama. Just last year, Ivey earmarked $100 million of education funding to go toward her now more than $1 billion prison.

The politicians who are the most vocal supporters of this new gambling bill aren’t concerned with Alabama’s education systems or how well teachers are being paid. After all, Ivey is still pushing to effectively begin privatizing schools by plowing $100 million into a shiny new school choice program.

They just see the opportunity for a few unscrupulous and likely politically well-connected entrepreneurs to make a fortune off of poor Alabamians, which is, in fact, exactly what would happen. 

A 2022 report by the Howard Center for Investigative Journalism found that state lotteries have facilitated a “multibillion-dollar wealth transfer from low-income U.S. communities.”

A 2023 report from the Alabama Policy Institute stated that “people experiencing poverty are most adversely affected [by gambling] because it is harder for them to afford losses.” One Bankrate survey from 2019 found that households that make less than $30,000 per year spend as much as 13% of their annual income on lottery tickets.

The research is exceedingly clear: Gambling revenues come from poor families and from so-called problem gamblers.

Of course, the retort of many in the state legislature is that people in Alabama are already gambling all the time. After all, the consequences for getting caught running an illegal gambling operation are often only a fine and “just” up to a year in jail. You should note, of course, that this is an argument Alabama Republicans would never countenance if it was made in support of legalizing marijuana.

Plus, while many in Alabama do already gamble illegally, the Alabama Policy Institute estimated that legalizing gambling would increase the number of problem gamblers by around one-third.

The pro-gambling lobby is selling us a real bill of goods.

They expect us to look at “grassroots organizations” with inoffensive names like Give Alabama a Voice and enough money to run ambitious television advertising campaigns and just pretend there’s no one behind the curtain.

Just pretend that there’s no connection between the people with enough money to blanket Alabama’s airwaves and the people who will make their fortunes once gambling is legalized.

They expect us to believe them when they say that the gambling revenue will actually go to Alabama schools. 

Just ignore what happened in Maryland and what Ivey pushed through the legislature last year.

They expect us to think that legalizing gambling will solve the crime problem and keep money out of criminals’ hands.

Just don’t think about how much easier it will be for teenagers and young adults to get addicted to gambling once it’s on their phone home screen.

If legalizing gambling does make it onto the ballot, I hope Alabamians prove to be shrewd customers.

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