The Latest Attempt to Legalize Alabama Sports Betting is Taking a Different Approach

Dan Favale
By , Updated on: Jan 5, 2024 12:00 AM
Attempts to legalize Alabama sports betting have failed before. What makes the latest push in 2024 any different? Apparently, a lot.

Skepticism runs rampant every time the subject of Alabama sports betting comes up. But is that all about to change entering the 2024 legislature sessions?

Key stakeholders are certainly trying to paint a rosier picture as yet another attempt to legalize sports betting in Alabama gets underway. To this point, the reaction to the optimism campaign has ranged from tepid or indifferent to outright disbelief. Only a handful of people among experts, industry insiders, state officials, residents, etc. are buying that 2024 will be the year Alabama sports gambling has a legislative breakthrough.

It’s difficult to blame anyone who won’t hold their breath for this next debate to take place. History suggests that any and all attempts to bring sports betting to The Crimson State will be unsuccessful. Over the past 20 legislature meetings, Alabama sports gambling has cracked the official agenda on 15 occasions. Each and every time, the proposed measures have failed to gain any real traction. Never mind actually getting a sports betting bill preliminary approval. Most of the time, the discussion is quick and unfolds without consequence.

Naturally, when it was reported in December 2023 that efforts to green light Alabama sports betting were intensifying ahead of 2024, very few people outside and even inside the state gave the news credence. And again, we can’t blame them. But as the Alabama legislature prepares to convene in March, a growing number of policymakers believe the sports betting push has an ace in the hole: House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter, a Republican from Rainsville, Alabama.

Why Optimism Surrounding the Latest Push for Alabama Sports Betting is on the Rise

Mr. Ledbetter will be spearheading the latest round of Alabama sports betting discussions during 2024 legislative meetings. And his approach is expected to be meaningfully different from the attempts in years past. Josh Moon of the Alabama Political Reporter took a closer look at how Ledbetter is going to frame his proposal and case:

Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, has made no secret of the fact that he’s on board with the gambling legislation that will emerge from a gambling committee he put together. That committee is expected, according to sources with knowledge of the committee’s work, to introduce a comprehensive bill that would, if approved by voters, legalize gaming at certain locations around the state and also significantly expand the regulation of gambling and strengthen laws against illegal gambling operations. Ledbetter told APR on Tuesday that he’s supportive of the legislation primarily because of the regulation. But that support, no matter what motivates it, is significant.” 

On the surface, it’s tough to spot anything groundbreaking about the next attempt to legalize Alabama sports betting. Bills have received consideration before. Is this time going to be different solely because Ledbetter is supporting it?

At the risk of oversimplifying this, the answer is yes.

As Moon pointed out, previous Alabama sports betting initiatives have failed largely due to a lack of support inside the House of Representatives. It’s a big deal that a key speaker is driving the discussion this time around. It suggests that there may be legs to the proposal. And the structure of this bill also implies there might be additional support in the Alabama Senate. 

Support from the House of Representatives is Just One of Many Roadblocks Facing Alabama Sports Gambling

Though Ledbetter’s support is worth our attention, it’s not everything. Any 2024 Alabama sports betting bill needs to make it out of the Senate. Then, from there, it will need to be ratified by state voters during the 2024 general election.

Right now, it isn’t clear how these subsequent steps will pan out. Many members of the Alabama Senate opposed sports gambling on a variety of levels. Some view the practice as immoral. Others are worried about the predatory nature of sports betting advertisements and retail locations. A handful simply don’t think it’s worth the trouble, since the legalization of Alabama sports betting would likely also require the formation of a state lottery.

While we don’t have the full details of Ledbetter’s proposal, it does sound like his committee has attempted to placate concerns. Past cases have focused on the growing popularity of sports betting in the United States and the missed revenue opportunities. This initiative shines a brighter light on regulation.

No fewer than two key concerns are reportedly addressed as part of this bill. First and foremost, this proposal would only legalize retail Alabama sports betting. As far as we can tell, none of the top online sportsbooks in the United States would be allowed to enter the market. On top of that, Alabama’s 2024 sports betting initiative also calls for harsher penalties on entities who violate the state’s gambling laws. Both elements will appeal to those who think legal sports betting is too risky or predatory. And that bodes well for this bill’s chances of advancing past the House and Senate. This, in turn, leaves one question…

Would Voters Approve an Alabama Sports Betting Bill During the 2024 General Election?

Not enough polls have been conducted to answer this question with reasonable definitiveness. But the popularity of University of Alabama football is inextricably tied to an interest in betting on college football. The chance to wager on the Crimson Tide will draw in plenty of supporters.

Aside from that, the sheer volume of legal sports betting throughout the United States might take care of the rest. 

Many voters may simply take the “Well, if almost every other state has it, why shouldn’t we” approach. Some non-sports fans might support the measure simply because it will probably create a state lottery. 

This is all to say: If the 2024 Alabama sports betting bill makes it out of the House and Senate, there’s a good chance it gets the stamp of approval from the voting population. But let’s not forget that we’re talking about a pretty big if

Theoretical discussions always tend to portray issues with optimistic framing. That could be happening here. There could be less support for Ledbetter’s sports betting measure than anticipated. Something else could go wrong. Policymakers could fail to find middle grounds on unaddressed issues—such as, potentially, advertising practices for sports betting providers. We won’t know anything for sure until the Alabama state legislature convenes. Fortunately, that’s just a few weeks away. So, one way or another, answers are coming.

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Meet the author

Dan Favale

Dan first began writing about sports back in 2011. At the time, his expertise lied in the NBA and NFL. More than one decade, that remains the case. But he's also expanded his catalog to include extensive knowledge and analysis on the NHL, MLB, tennis, NASCAR, college ba...

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