Lawmaker believes gas tax hike could propel his lottery bill to passage

Alabamians lined up at gas stations across the Georgia state line Wednesday for their chance to win $448 million dollars in the Powerball lottery, a ticket they said they'd much rather buy closer to home.

Rick Chanell drives to Georgia from Lincoln, Alabama every five weeks to buy lottery tickets for a group.

“Let’s get it,” he said about the idea of a lottery in Alabama. “The sooner the better. Why are we wasting time?”

Sen. Jim McClendon (R- Springville) agrees with Channell.

When the regular session resumes March 19, McClendon plans to file two bills aimed at creating a lottery in Alabama.

McClendon has filed lottery bills in previous years, and has come close to getting one passed.

This year, though, McClendon believes his odds of passage are greater because of the new gas tax increase, which he voted against.

“I didn’t have any taxpayers that came out and said we need this,” McClendon explained. “The public was strongly against that. Now, I think it’s likely that the legislators, many of them having made an unpopular vote, maybe willing to support a lottery now so they can go back to their constituents and say here, I’m doing something that you want done.”

McClendon says he has two bills ready to file. One allows the people the chance to vote to create a lottery. The second bill explains where they new money would go. His bill designates half to the education trust fund and half to the general fund for services like Medicaid, the courts and prisons.

He expects his lottery proposal, as written, to generate between $200M and $300M annually.

“We’re totally surrounded by lotteries and they’re taking our money,” McClendon said.

“The lottery is a hell of a lot more popular than the gas tax,” said Channell, after he purchased his tickets in Georgia. “No question. I can’t tell you the people I know who go to Mississippi or Florida or Tennessee.”

Lottery attempts have failed year after year in the Alabama legislature, including the year former Governor Robert Bentley used every card he had to try to get one passed.

Opponents have argued lotteries are not biblical and prey on the poor.

Alabama voters last voted on a lottery in 1999. Churches played a strong part in its defeat.

McClendon’s bill would likely go to the Senate’s Tourism Committee, chaired by Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh.

In a statement, Marsh told ABC 33/40, “We expect to see several lottery proposals this session and hope that the best one will get a vote on the floor.”