Ask Alabama: Why is gambling illegal in Alabama?

Ask Alabama: Why is gambling illegal in Alabama?

For the most part, you can’t gamble in
Alabama, at least according to the
state’s constitution. In 1901, the
Constitution was drawn up and officially
made gambling illegal. But why was that
included? “Why is gambling illegal in
Alabama?” That question was submitted to
Ask Alabama by Ron. And my temptation is
to just say “because churches don’t like
it” and hand-wave the whole question. But
here’s the thing. The churches have never
liked gambling throughout the history of
the United States, but that hasn’t
stopped gambling from rising in
popularity and falling out of favor a
number of times. Over in Mississippi
today the coastline is dotted with
casinos and the churches don’t like it
but that doesn’t mean they’re unplugging
the slot machines anytime soon. So
clearly, even in the south, the churches
aren’t the only arbiters of what is and
isn’t legal. So what else is there?
So the popularity of gambling has seen
its ups and downs since the country was
just a handful of colonies. And during
the mid to late 1800s we were on the
back end of one of those waves of
popularity. After the Civil War Alabama
and many other southern states even ran
lotteries to raise some quick money to
repair infrastructure that was destroyed
in the war. The lottery started facing
some backlash when people learned the
kind of folks who were actually running
the lotteries. See in those days lottery
systems tended to be rife with
corruption. Companies would pay bribes
and kickbacks to get control of running
and promoting the state lotteries. And
once they had contro,l the companies
weren’t particularly concerned with
running a fair game. Pretty famously in
the late 1800s Louisiana ran one of the
most profitable and most corrupt
lotteries in the country. They had no
problem with straight up bribing
lawmakers to secure a contract. And if
they couldn’t sell all the tickets to a
particular drawing they would still
include the unsold tickets and if one
was picked the lottery winnings would go
to the company running the lottery.
Stories about this corruption became
pretty well known in the era when the
Alabama Constitution was being drawn up,
which is likely why gambling was
outlawed at the time. Now you may be
asking “isn’t straight up banning
gambling sort of throwing the baby out
with the bathwater?” Gambling is still a
big moneymaker so couldn’t the state
just Institute some kind of oversight or
regulation of the gambling business to
root out corruption but still keep
bringing in the revenue. That’s what
states with legalized gambling do today
after all. But over a century ago that’s
not how government worked. Ideas like
government regulation and oversight of
private industry weren’t really a thing.
There was no FDA checking food. There was
no OSHA protecting workers rights. That
type of regulation didn’t
become commonplace until the era of the
New Deal which was still decades away. So
when faced with issues like corruption in
the gambling industry they basically had
two options: live with it or straight-up
outlaw the whole industry. Alabama went
with option number two. Now the state of
Alabama is probably going to have to
deal with the question of legalized
gambling in the future. The states love
of low taxes but desires for improvements
are inevitably going to lead to a need
for a new revenue stream and gambling in
some form has become a common fix for
other states. But it’s going to face
opposition. Not just from churches and
conservative groups, but from one of the
most well-funded groups that take part
in the fight against gambling: other
casinos. Casinos in nearby states, tribal
casinos, and gambling halls that already
operate a legal gray area in Alabama
have nothing to gain and everything to
lose from gambling being legalized in
this state. After all everyone who
gambles in Alabama’s new casinos won’t
be gambling in these existing casinos.
So they have a vested interest in shutting
down potential competition. Which often
leads to strange alliances of church
groups against vice standing shoulder to
shoulder with, and sometimes being
financed by, the same vice interest they
are opposing. Of course a lot of this
tends to get hidden in dark money groups
so no one can see where the money comes
from. But you can see a good example of
it in 2018 in Florida. That’s when the
Seminole Tribe and the Disney
Corporation teamed up to push for an
anti casino amendment, not because
they’re morally opposed to gambling but
because neither group wanted to deal
with competition from other casinos or
resorts. Anyway that’s how gambling
became illegal in Alabama in the first
place and why it stayed that way for so
long? We may one day get gambling, but
voters are going to have to get past the
weird hybrid mutant that is the church-sinos to do it i’m jonathan so
I’m Jonathan Sobolewski for Reckon.
If you like these videos and like what
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you’ve got questions about Alabama that
you want answered you can submit your
questions to Ask Alabama at
Thanks for watching

4 thoughts on “Ask Alabama: Why is gambling illegal in Alabama?”

  1. Alabama is a biblical state. Even though the state is in the liquor business. Even though the legislators go to Mississippi to gamble
    The people who own casino's won't give the government leaders the payoffs that they want.

  2. Alabama would do well for itself if it would just make itself the Nevada of the Southeast. Give us a lottery. Legalize gambling, recreational marijuana, and prostitution….and as long as we're fantasizing, let's also have some stretches of public road without speed limits. We need to bring not only business, but tourism into the state, and a citizenry with more liberty is a happy citizenry indeed. We don't need a gas tax hike, we need more avenues of revenue that people will be willing to spend their money on.

  3. The biggest laugher in this whole video was the suggestion that we could somehow root out corruption associated with gambling through regulation and oversight and only reap the "benefits". Gambling will always have the effect of compounding the corruption of your state and local officials. It's unavoidable.

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