The Great Alabama Bingo War of 2010

Future Alabama historians will remember 2010 as the year of the ‘great bingo wars.’ Most of the time bingo generates little controversy so for many it is hard to understand what the Alabama bingo wars are all about. The bingo controversy has actually dominated the governor’s race. Most of 2010 has been one big fight over gambling, especially bingo. The fight has taken place at casinos, courtrooms and has even reached the halls of the Alabama legislature.  The latest chapters of the controversy are now taking place in the grand jury room of the federal courthouse.

The whole ‘bingo war’ was started by Alabama governor Riley who tried to frame his anti bingo stance in moral terms.  Then it was revealed the he received campaign contributions from out of state gambling groups concerned that legalized gambling and bingo in Alabama could cost them business from Alabamians who routinely cross the Mississippi state line to play at Indian casinos. One member of Riley’s anti gambling task force was seen playing a slot machine at a Mississippi casino where he won a jackpot of $2,300 jackpot. Governor Riley and his task force have been relentless in trying to shut down all non Indian owned casinos in the state.

The controversy has heated up as the year progressed and in late August and early September pro bingo rallies were staged in Montgomery, the state’s capitol. The rallies were sponsored by the 2010 Campaign for Jobs and Justice who say that Riley’s anti bingo stance has cost jobs throughout the state. Both the Republican and Democratic contenders in the current Governor’s race have called for the disbanding of the anti gambling task force and a popular vote on the gambling issue.

Victoryland casino has been particularly hard hit by Riley’s actions and at one time employed 2,000 people. The casino shut down voluntarily after threats of a raid by Riley’s task force and has cut back staff to 40 employees hurting the region’s economy. Even the religious right has gotten into the act but not on the anti gambling side as most would expect. Earlier in the year an associate of Governor Riley threatened Dr. Randy Brinson, chairman of the Christian Coalition of Alabama, when he expressed support for a bill that would tax and regulate gambling in the state. Recent court actions threaten to expose massive corruption in the governor’s office and fortunately for the state Riley will be out in 2011 thanks to term limits. Then for those Alabama citizens who have not already headed to the online bingo sites for online bingo games, they will be able to play land-based and internet bingo freely and without fear.

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