By Tanner Hood
Gambling is expected to be among top legislative priorities for the Alabama Farmers Federation when the 2024 Regular Session convenes Feb. 6 in Montgomery.
Recent talks among legislators include gaming expansion — a clear contrast to the conservative values of Alabama farmers who constitute the state’s largest grassroots organization, said Federation Agricultural Legislation Director Preston Roberts.
Federation Opposes Gambling
On a recent episode of the Federation’s Alabama AgCast, Attorney General Steve Marshall discussed legislators’ desire to address problems with illegal games of chance through regulating and expanding legalized gambling.
“Gambling is a criminal offense that should be enforced at the local level,” Marshall said. “I think the law is clear and, in fact, do not urge a change.”
Rumored expansions include a statewide lottery, full casino gaming at new and existing locations, and legalized online (often sports) betting.
“Talks of establishing a commission to curb illegal gambling are growing,” Roberts said. “The Federation, along with numerous groups across the state, believe gambling would increase government, make the poor poorer, and lead to personal and societal harm, including addiction and debt.”
Currently, bingo and parimutuel betting on horse or dog racing are allowed in some Alabama counties through local constitutional amendments. Those same activities are allowed on Poarch Band of Creek Indian tribal land due to federal law.
“I don’t think a commission is a solution at all,” Marshall said. “I think that is more a way of hiding the true incentive, which is to pass laws and enhance the ability to gamble in the state of Alabama.”
The Federation opposes all forms of gambling. The organization’s grassroots leaders are strongly encouraged to reach out to local legislators regarding gambling before and during the session, Roberts said.
Other Legislative Priorities
Meanwhile, Federation State Legislative Programs Director Russ Durrance said Alabama’s labor force participation is lagging other states at 57.1%.
“Speaker of the House Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, created a committee last session to address the issue and raise participation rates,” Durrance said. “We’re ready to hear results and help provide new ways of getting people back to work.”
Also in the works is a bill to exempt agricultural fencing materials from state sales tax. It’s backed by Sen. Jack Williams, R-Mobile, a cattle and timber farmer. The Federation’s Roberts hailed the bill, which will promote proper livestock handling and protection for farmers while giving an added benefit for hard work.
Other priorities the Federation’s External Affairs team will monitor include school choice, health care enhancements, ethics reform and funding for ag initiatives and research.
Member Engagement Is Key
Federation External Affairs Department Director Brian Hardin said his team works diligently to promote farmers and conservative values in conversations with legislators.
“We’re thankful for strong leadership in the House and Senate,” Hardin said. “In 2022, Federation members helped elect men and women we believe share our values. As lawmakers tackle tough topics like gambling, it’s vital they hear from Federation members. Our grassroots efforts can’t end at the voting booth. We must continue to communicate with legislators about issues that are important to Alabama families.”
The last possible day of the legislative session is May 21. Hardin urged members to contact their area organization directors to set up visits with legislators during the session.