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Bill to increase penalty for illegal gambling failscomment (0)

May 9, 2013

By Jennifer Davis Rash

Hundreds of bills die each year in the state Legislature. That is not unusual. What is unusual is when one party has a supermajority in both houses and a high-ranking official in that same party endorses legislation as his “top priority” but the bill ends up being killed by a member of that party. 

Senate Bill (SB) 446 experienced this fate in the Senate on April 30.

The bill would have increased the penalty for promoting, conspiring to promote or possessing an illegal gambling machine from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class C felony for those making profits over $10,000. 

“This bill was not whether we are for or against legalizing gambling,” said bill sponsor Sen. Bryan Taylor, R-Prattville. “It is whether we are for or against enforcing the law. … We have casino bosses, casino lawyers and some of the largest out-of-state casino machine makers in the world who are mocking Alabama’s law.”

Attorney General Luther Strange said the bill, which was his top priority for the session, would have given law enforcement officials the tools they need to enforce the law. 

“People ignore the laws because they don’t have enough teeth,” he said. “We seize their machines, they put up a half-hearted defense and then abandon them. They bring in new machines, claim they are better and are back in business again.

“It was very disappointing the vote never came up,” Strange said. “We had the votes to pass the bill but we didn’t have the votes to stop Sen. Gerald Dial’s filibuster.”

Dial, R-Lineville, was the only Republican to publically oppose the legislation. When the bill came up for discussion April 30, he offered an amendment on the floor. The amendment would have made law enforcement officers who failed to enforce “gambling offenses” guilty of a Class C felony.

The amendment failed, but Dial did not give up the microphone, thus leading to a filibuster. The only way to stop a filibuster is with a two-thirds vote of the members (21 votes). The vote to cloture (or stop the filibuster) was 18 for and 13 against. The 18 in favor of cloture were all Republican senators. The 13 against were all Democratic senators plus one Republican, Dial. 

Four senators did not vote either way on the cloture.

Two were not present that day — Sen. Shadrack McGill, R-Scottsboro, and Sen. Clay Scofield, R-Guntersville.

Two senators were present but chose not to vote — Sen. Tom Whatley, R-Auburn, and Sen. Jerry Fielding, R-Sylacauga. Both had indicated their support for the bill but chose not to shut down the filibuster. Attempts to reach Fielding and Whatley were unsuccessful.

Multiple attempts to reach Dial also were unsuccessful.

It is not clear why he opposed the legislation, but he has disappointed many in the Republican party. 

Dial is known for his long history of supporting gambling efforts when he served in the Democratic party, but he had given his word to top Republican leaders including former Gov. Bob Riley that he would not be involved in gambling issues when he switched parties, said Dan Ireland, director emeritus of Alabama Citizens Action Program. “When he switched parties he told me he was through doing anything for the gambling crowd,” Ireland said. “I told him I was proud of him ... and then he leads the campaign to virtually destroy this bill, which would have increased penalities on illegal gambling.” 

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