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A sports betting bill has yet again run into stiff opposition, this time in Alabama

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

It's April, but March Madness is still going strong. Both the men's and women's Final Four are now set and will hit the court later this week, and when they do, fans in most states will be able to place bets on the games. This is because of a 2018 Supreme Court ruling that gave states the freedom to create their own sports gambling laws. Most states have allowed it, leading to hefty returns for state coffers from taxing bets. Twelve states still have not legalized it, though. And as Joseph King from the Gulf States Newsroom reports, in college sports-crazed Alabama, a bill to legalize sports betting has once again run into stiff opposition.

JOSEPH KING, BYLINE: Karl Pendleton is watching North Carolina State take on Oakland's men's college basketball team at a bar called Walk-On's. He's periodically checking his phone.

KARL PENDLETON: ESPN, CBS, Yahoo, all those - fill out brackets. And you just gotta, over the years, understand hypothetically that all No. 1s aren't going to win this.

KING: Pendleton is one of millions betting on the March Madness tournament. He's from out of state, but visiting some friends in Alabama, where sports betting is still illegal. He says people should have the opportunity to gamble if they want to.

PENDLETON: It is safe if the state is controlling it, just like lottos. It's safe. And you know what? Everybody should have that opportunity. The average person, like, on March Madness, they just looking for fun.

KING: The American Gaming Association estimates more than $2 billion will be wagered on the women's and men's college basketball tournaments this year. But states like Texas, California and Georgia still haven't taken the plunge. Lawmakers in Alabama have shown interest in legalizing some forms of gambling. A bill proposed this year would have opened up the state to casinos, the lottery and sports betting. Alabama's Republican governor, Kay Ivey, threw her support behind it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KAY IVEY: I believe the current proposal being contemplated by the legislature is good for Alabama. And I will be carefully watching it move through the process.

KING: But sports betting was stripped out of the bill later in the session. Alabama Democratic Senator Bobby Singleton says the state is leaving millions of dollars in tax revenue on the table, and he disagrees with the bill's opponents, who worry about gambling addiction.

BOBBY SINGLETON: We have more people dying on the streets, more people addicted to alcohol. We got drugs that are here and we don't have drug treatment centers that we're setting up. And so when I hear those arguments based on gambling, I say that you're being hypocritical.

KING: But research shows that online gambling has a higher chance of addiction. Dr. Lia Nower is the director of the Center for Gambling Studies at Rutgers University.

LIA NOWER: So introducing legalized sports wagering, most of which is carried on online - either on your mobile phone or your computer - is going to necessarily lead to higher rates of problem gambling.

KING: Preston Roberts with the Alabama Farmers Federation worries about how online betting companies will appeal to kids.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESTON ROBERTS: Today, Alabama has current laws against marketing harmful products like tobacco and alcohol to minors, and in some circumstances, prevents advertising within certain distances from schools. Yet under this bill, if DraftKings wanted to sponsor my 7-year-old's Little League baseball team, they would be allowed to do so.

KING: Back at Walk-On's, Kerry Weidenback is watching the game.

KERRY WEIDENBACK: Well, I mean, if you have a little extra money, you gamble.

KING: Some faith groups, like the Alabama Baptist State Convention, oppose legalized sports betting and other forms of gambling. Weidenback says he's a Christian, but his response to people against gambling for religious reasons is...

WEIDENBACK: God gives you free will.

KING: Alabama's legislative session goes until mid-May, but sports betting supporters say they aren't optimistic their bill will pass.

For NPR News, I'm Joseph King in Birmingham. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Joseph King