Alabama's gamble?

Alabama's gamble?

By Robyn McGlohn - bio | email
Posted by Dana Franks - email

ARDMORE, TN (WAFF) -- Bet your bottom dollar, Rick Hayes makes the 54-mile round trip to Tennessee in an instant. His ritual has become a weekly road trip.

"We're crossing the Tennessee line to get lottery tickets," Hayes said.

He does this in hopes of becoming a millionaire.

"I'm going to win," Hayes said. "I'm going to win the jackpot."

Hayes is one of the millions of Alabamians who cross state borders every year. Whether it be north, south, east or west, they do it to try their luck. For them, that's the way it's going to stay while the lottery remains illegal in Alabama.

The issue is a dicey one. And depending on who you ask, it's up in the air as to whether it will ever become legal.

"If you look back at our constitution, there are strict prohibitions against gambling," said Gov. Bob Riley.

Since 1901, Alabamians have voted "No" against the idea of lotteries or organized gambling, especially slot machines. But in the last few years, certain counties by virtue of a local constituitional amendment have allowed charity bingo halls to operate.

But the state refuses to tax them. Riley firmly believes Alabamians do not want to legalize gambling, nor do they want a lottery.

"People didn't put [constitutional prohibitions] in there for no apparent reason," he said. "They put them in there because there is a downside to gambling."

Downsides include gambling addiction and an increase in crime and domestic violence.

"When people talk about all the great things about this, I just fail to see what they're talking about," Riley said.

But Alabama Education Association director Dr. Paul Hubbert said the good outweighs the bad.

"It just makes no sense to me to have our people furnish funding for their schools, their health care system and other state needs," Hubbert said.

Hubbert insisted that having a lottery or even taxing organized gambling would help the state, mainly with its' education system.

"Get $200- to $300 million from that operation and put it in our school budget," he said. "It wouldn't eliminate cuts but it would certainly almost cut it in half."

The lottery system in Tennessee started in 2004, and is reported to have raised more than $1.3 billion dollars for education. In Georgia, they were able to give more than $800 million to education in 2007. And the Florida lottery has raised more than $18 billion for education since 1988.

Hubbert said money generated in Alabama could add new schools, provide supplies and erase the current issue of proration.

"It could save teacher jobs," he said.

But Riley questioned whether the pros of gambling are equal to the cons.

"Are you willing to give up a quality of life here that the people of Alabama here have wanted and voted to maintain for less than a half of one percent of the education budget, not the total Alabama budget, just the education budget?" he asked.

Riley said in the end, if people like Hayes want lotteries or to tax gambling, odds are the choice would still be in their hands elsewhere.

"Didn't win on scratch off's this time, but I will be back," Hayes said.