Electronic Bingo Headed to Court in Alabama

Recently the announcement that Alabama casino VictoryLand planned to open signaled the end of the Alabama bingo war. Now it appears that both sides are taking their dispute to court. For two years Attorney General Luther Strange has pursued a vendetta against casinos offering electronic bingo to patrons. Even worse Strange’s actions have caused the loss of hundreds of jobs in an area with high unemployment. In October lawyers for VictoryLand met with officials to talk about the future of VictoryLand. A few days after the meeting Strange made an unusual offer. In a letter to Joe Espy, an attorney for VictoryLand owner Milton McGregor Strange said “Your clients could amicably allow state enforcement agents to seize some or all of the machines that your clients intend to operate and evidence about how they were operated. Your clients could then argue their case in court through a forfeiture action, which we would be willing to expedite.”

Strange remained firm in his opposition to the casino’s opening. He said that he would not agree to VictoryLand reopening without a final decision from the courts. Strange warned that if the casino opened law enforcement action “as appropriate” would follow. It would appear that Strange if threatening another raid on the casino. Espy responded to Strange’s offer and said that the proposal would result in a “sham lawsuit.” Espy said the court needed a “justiciable controversy” to reach a decision. In an interview Espy told reporters “A forfeiture proceeding is against the property. It is not against VictoryLand. VictoryLand would not be a party to the case. The ability to put on expert testimony and witnesses would be severely limited.”

The Alabama constitution bans lotteries but several amendments allow charity bingo in the state. Slot machines are also banned. Opponents of electronic bingo contend that the machines blur the line between slot machines and bingo. The attorney general’s office says the machines are in reality slots but gaming experts say that the machines operate under the rules of bingo. Espy told Strange that all of the bingo machines at VictoryLand have been approved by independent laboratories. Espy stated “These laboratories certified and will in the future certify to the sheriff of Macon County that the games in operation at VictoryLand play the game of bingo.”

Throughout the two year old dispute there have been accusations that in reality gambling opponents have been influenced by large campaign donations from tribal gaming interests in Alabama and the casino industry in Mississippi. Gambling opponents deny this charge but records show that former governor Riley and other top officials received large donations from casino and tribal gaming interests.

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