SUMMARY: Dial really did propose a plan to charge Alabama taxpayers $52 per year and enter them into a statewide “raffle” with a weekly million-dollar prize. Under Dial’s proposal, people opposed to gambling could refuse the prize, but they’d still have to pay the $52 tax. Proposed in 1999, when the state was voting on the lottery issue, Dial’s “raffle” was conceived as an alternative to the lotto.
ANALYSIS: The Varner campaign people were clearly having fun when they crafted this ad, which depicts Dial as the guy who also wants to force you and your clergyman to play the lottery — whether you want to or not.
“He proposed a law that would require everyone to play a lottery, even if they oppose gambling,” the ad states. “Even your preacher would have to play.”
It sounds like a bizarre claim. After all, forcing ministers to gamble would be political suicide in a Bible Belt state. And since there is no Alabama lottery, the revenue, presumably, would go somewhere else.
Still, the story is mostly true. Dial did propose a mandatory lottery, but he didn’t come up with it out of the blue.
The story harks back to 1999, the last time the state seriously wrestled with the lottery issue. With a statewide amendment on the ballot that would clear the way for a lotto, Alabamians were lining up on both sides of the issue.
Dial proposed an alternative plan that, according to Associated Press reports from the time, would charge a $52 annual tax to every resident who files an income tax return, and would give away $1 million per week to a randomly selected Alabamian.
If you were opposed to gambling, you could have your name taken out of the drawing, but you’d still owe the state $52 per year in tax.
At least that’s the story according to multiple press outlets writing about the issue at the time.
Dial now claims that the newspapers got it wrong, and that his idea was always intended to allow taxpayers to voluntarily check off a $52 addition to their income tax if they wanted to play the state “raffle.”
Dial told The Star his proposal would have been better than a lottery because it wouldn’t place an undue burden on poor people, and wouldn’t get the state into the business of advertising for a gambling enterprise.
According to a 1999 report in The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, Dial came up with the plan because constituents approached him asking for an alternative to the lottery.
Realistically, your preacher was never in danger of being forced to buy a lottery ticket.
Had Dial, then a Democrat, forged ahead with the plan, it would have placed him at odds with then-Gov. Don Siegelman, for whom the lottery was a core issue. The chance of Dial building a coalition to supplant Siegelman’s lottery proposal was virtually nil.
Still, Varner insists Dial’s lottery was a serious proposal, not just an offhand idea.
“He held press conferences on it,” Varner said. “He had legislative aides do research to come up with the numbers. This is not just something you throw out in a radio interview; it was much more than that.”
In a telephone interview with The Star, Dial called Varner’s assertion “a crock of s---” and insisted the ad is wrong because it states that Dial “proposed legislation.” Dial said no work was done to draw up actual legislation.
“If you think this is ‘proposed legislation,’ you don’t know anything about the legislative process,” Dial said. “If you think this is a proposed law, you need to stop smoking what you’re smoking.”
Jerry Bassett, director of the state’s Legislative Reference Service, said no work has ever been done in his office to write a mandatory lottery bill. Bassett said the service helps draft most, but not all, of the legislation that comes through the Senate.
However, a Feb. 4, 1999 Associated Press article reports that Dial backed away from the raffle plan partly because he wasn’t happy with the revenues the Legislative Fiscal Office projected for it. So it appears Dial at least went far enough to have some numbers crunched.
And apparently, Dial later came up with numbers he liked. A Feb. 13, 1999 article from AP writer Bill Poovey reports Dial again pushing the raffle idea, and quotes him saying the plan would generate $115 million in its first year.
Siegelman’s proposed amendment to legalize the lottery failed by a 20 percentage-point margin, and Dial’s statewide “raffle” was never heard from again. Until this election cycle, that is.