The Great Alabama Bingo Battle-A New Chapter

Even with a new administration in office the great Alabama bingo battle continues. The long drawn out saga began with a series of raids in several casinos offering electronic bingo. Then there were two separate trials where publicity hungry federal prosecutors were handed two humiliating defeats. Prosecutors wasted millions in taxpayer dollars in their vindictive quest to convict several innocent legislators and casino operators. The whole argument was over electronic bingo machines which state and federal authorities claim are illegal because of their close resemblance to slot machines. Several casinos were forced to close and hundreds were thrown out of work in a state with high unemployment.

The new Alabama attorney general Luther Strange has continued the vendetta against the bingo machines. Now Strange has set his sights on Tribal gaming operations in the state over Electronic bingo machines. Recently Strange has asked the federal agency that oversees Indian gambling to prohibit the slot machine-like electronic bingo machines at the state’s tribal casinos. Tribes cannot offer Las Vegas style table games and slots unless they have a compact with the states where they are located. The tribes do not have a compact with Alabama. Under current regulations the Las Vegas style games are classified as class 3 games.

In a letter to the National Indian Gaming Commission Strange wrote “In Alabama, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians operate Class II gambling that approximates the same kind of slot machine gambling that one might find in Las Vegas or Atlantic City.”The Tribe’s ability to obscure the line between Class II and III makes it harder for my office to enforce Alabama law outside of Indian land. Alabama citizens are understandably confused when Indian tribes are allowed to call their Class III slot machines ‘bingo,’ but gambling promoters within the State’s jurisdiction cannot use the same gimmick.”

Poarch Creek Indian Gaming operates three casinos in the state with electronic bingo machines. Daniel K. McGhee, Tribal Gaming Commission Administrator for the Poarch Creeks, said he is confident the machines are allowed under current regulations. Last year Strange sent a similar letter to the NIGC and chairperson Tracie L. Stevens replied saying that the tribe “may play electronic bingo so long as it otherwise meets IGRA’s Class II gaming definition.” McGhee told reporters “They did not have a problem with what we are doing here. I don’t see what he hopes to gain by a second letter.” McGhee said of Strange’s letter “It’s an attack on sovereignty. Basically, he might as well be asking to be able to enforce certain laws in Florida or any other state. It’s offensive to tribes to make a request like that.”

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