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FRIDAY, MARCH 30, 2007

Bill would legalize gambling machines at greyhound tracks

MONTGOMERY (AP) — A favorite hot button issue — gambling — is back on the table in the Alabama Legislature.

Bills introduced in the Alabama Legislature on Thursday would legalize video bingo games for high stakes at greyhound racetracks in Birmingham and Mobile. Under the proposal, 20 percent of revenue from the games would go to the state and be earmarked to fund Medicaid. Lawmakers in recent years have struggled to keep up with the rising cost of the health care program for low income and elderly residents.

The electronic bingo machines are currently legal at greyhound tracks in Macon and Greene County because of local laws. The bill would outlaw another kind of gambling machine, called "sweepstakes games," which have been popping up across the state.

The bills are sponsored by Rep. Marcel Black, D-Tuscumbia, and Sen. Pat Lindsey, D-Butler. Black said the bill would control gambling by getting rid of the sweepstakes machines.

"There are thousands of untaxed, unregulated electronic sweepstakes machines operating around the state," Black said. He said operators of the games have found loopholes in state law to keep operating.

"My proposal will make it clear, once and for all, that video sweepstakes machines are illegal in Alabama," Black said.

Gambling opponents in the Legislature said they were studying the proposal, but said they do not like the idea of allowing the bingo machines in Mobile and Birmingham.

"It's just not where we need to go," said Rep. Gerald Allen, R-Tuscaloosa.

Another gambling opponent, House Minority Leader Rep. Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, said he might be willing to consider the bill if it will get rid of the sweepstakes machines.

"I'm all for making all gambling illegal," Hubbard said. But he said a priority needs to be to do away with the sweepstakes machines, which he said mostly operate without paying taxes.

Similar bills have been met with opposition in the past, but House Speaker Seth Hammett said the prospect of getting rid of the sweepstakes machines may make the legislation easier to pass this session.

"One feature that is good is that it will preclude those machines from operating anywhere in Alabama," Hammett said.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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