Alabama: On betting, football, the Iron Bowl

Birmingham AmericansEssentially, each southern state’s citizenry and legislative players collectively have one of two extreme mindsets regarding gambling. In Dixieland, you’ll find either a completely fun, freewheelin’, anything-goes attitude (think Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida) or a pervasive anti-betting stance (likesay Georgia and Texas).

Sadly, Alabama falls into the latter category: The “NFL” in “NFL betting” may as well stand for “No Fun Legally” in the “Heart of Dixie.” Betting on football will come to Alabama after arriving at nearly every ohter state in the country. If only one of the professional football teams that have called Birmingham home over the years could have stuck around -- or participated in a viable rogue league, for that matter...

Betting in Alabama

How anti-betting/-games of chance is Alabama? NFLbets’ll put it this way: In 1901, betting, i.e. gambling, i.e. “games of chance” as defined by the law, was made illegal per an amendment to the state constitution. And, save a brief window of opportunity at the end of the 20th century, that very basic and very restrictive law has held in Alabama.

Alabama state legislators were about four decades behind most of the rest of the U.S. on pari-mutuel betting: Only in 1973, along with the opening of the Greenetrack Dog Track in Eutaw. The “Belle of the South” thoroughbred horse track outside of Birmingham opened in ’87; thereafter, the mayors/city councils of Birmingham, Mobile and Tuskogee attempted to get the state to loosen restrictions on pari-mutuel betting on horses and greyhounds, plus introduction of (gasp!) a state lottery.

These efforts were all for naught, and today Alabama is one of 10 states without a state lottery – efforts by then-governor Don Siegleman in the late 1990s to pass a bill creating such a lottery also failed. Horse racing at the Birmingham track didn’t make it out of the 20th century. Incredibly enough, Alabama as of 2019 is one of just four states with active greyhound racing – now at both state-run tracks along with simulcast race betting.

A very temporary liberalization on casino gambling law came in the 90s, following passage of the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988. However, then-governor Bob Riley formed a special (and quite righteous) anti-gambling task force in 2010. This force shut down newly-founded “e-bingo parlors” in Fairfield, Bessamer, Selma and Montgomery. Several attempts to reopen such operations (particularly in Fairfield) led to re-closure.

The woes of one-time gambling haven Victoryland Casino also began in 2010. Originally solely a greyhound track when established in 1983, the slow introduction of electronic betting games and the foundation of a hotel ultimately boiled over into ire among the anti-gambling lot. Victoryland was shut down in ’10, reopened in ’12, closed in ’13, re-reopened in’16, Victoryland is as of this writing open for business – but with the death of owner Milton McGregor in March 2018, this hotel casino’s future is hardly certain.

As for daily fantasy sports … ah, go ahead and guess. That’s right: in 10 states is it illegal for residents to play DFS games. Alabama is of course one of these 10.

Football in Alabama

When the fan hears the expression “football in Alabama,” great traditions of winning come to mind. NFLbets is taking tradition like that of the Birmingham Americans, the 1974 World Football League champions. The’74 Americans went undefeated – 13-0 – in Alabama and put together the WFL’s all-time longest winning streak at 10 consecutive.

Thanks in part to the folding of the Jacksonville Sharks *during the season*, Birmingham hosted a semi-final game and World Bowl I, the latter of which was won by the Americans over the Florida Blazers. Unfortunately for them, the team’s assets were seized literally directly after the final gun of World Bowl I, and the defending champion Americans were bought by another Birmingham-based group of investors and reinvented as the Birmingham Vulcans for the ’75 WFL season. Of course, that season was never finished…

The lamely-named Birmingham Fire joined the World League of American Football for that league’s inaugural season of 1991. In ’91, the Fire defended Legion Field well enough, going 3-2 in Alabama; an 0-3 mark in games abroad (in Montreal, Barcelona and Frankfurt) aside, the Fire were successful enough to make the playoffs in their first season. In ’92, Birmingham closed out with a 4-0 run for a 7-3-1 record and earned another wild-card bid. For the ’93 WLAF season, well, that season was never played…

In 1995, Alabama’s winning tradition continued (sort of) with the introduction of the Birmingham Barracudas as a CFL expansion team. The ’95 Barracudas went 10-8 and made the South Division playoffs in that inaugural season. Playing at the Vulcan-Americans’ old stomping grounds at Legion Field, the Barracudas performed well enough at the turnstiles – at least until the NFL and NCAA seasons started. And for the ’96 CFL season, well, the CFL USA experiment was deemed over…

The 2001 Birmingham Thunderbolts sadly could not compete within the shadows of the giants that had once played there. In the inaugural season of the XFL, the Thunderbolts were a poor 2-8. Looking to bounce back for the ’02 XFL, the ’Bolts dreams were crushed by the fact that the season was never played…

Luckily for Alabama, the state has a couple of fairly high-profile and successful college football programs. You may have heard of the University of Alabama Crimson Tide, the Auburn University Tigers and the rivalry that has existed between the teams since 1893 – a rivalry so heated that Alabama-Auburn contests were cancelled due to extreme violence in 1907 and wasn’t even scheduled again until ’48!

A succinct history of Crimson Tide football is damn difficult to do; in fact, Os Davis’s original, beautifully-written 1,000 words on ’Bama and Auburn football was grievously wiped out without a trace and therefore won’t be redone just yet. So let’s say that Alabama has run up an incredible 17 national titles, the last coming in 2017; Auburn has just two championships on its collective mantelpiece, most recently bagging the title in 2010 behind QB Cam Newton. And now, some videos.

Here’s a nice history of Crimson Tide football:

Auburn’s national title season of 2010 is the very definition of “storybook season.” This is quite an excellent roundup of the entire run:

Then there is of course the Iron Bowl. Played annually since 1948, this game is almost always worth watching and sometimes is among college football’s most exciting yearly. Several exciting Iron Bowl matchups (e.g. 1971, 1985, 2010, 2013) are available in comprehensive or complete fashion on YouTube, but this clip does a nice job summarizing three-quarters of a century:

Betting on football in Alabama

Little room for optimism here. In April 2016, the state’s attorney general publicly stated that “paid daily fantasy sports contests are in fact illegal gambling under Alabama law”; the state subsequently became one of the nation’s very first to issue a cease-and-desist statement to major DFS providers. Such a stand is representative of how Alabama lawmakers feel about betting on football, and two years later a bill which would regulate the operation of DFS games in the state was axed in the legislature. This will keep a lid on legal DFS betting in Alabama through at very least 2020.

Alabama’s hardline legal stance on fantasy football may be extended into the possibility of betting on football in the post-PASPA age, i.e. there seems to be no possibility of such legalization at any point in the near future. Like Georgia and Texas, betting laws are more likely to be rolled back than expanded upon.