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MONTGOMERY, AL -- Just days after supporters had pronounced the measure dead, a bill to legalize electronic bingo machines in Alabama passed the state Senate on March 30 by a margin of 21 to 13. If the House approves the bill later this month, and if the measure can subsequently survive a near-certain veto by Gov. Bob Riley, then bingo operators would be protected from police raids and seizures of their machines for eight months, until citizens can vote on a statewide referendum this November.
If voters approve bingo legalization in the fall, then the legislature would decide next January how many locations will be allowed operate electronic bingo. Legal machines would be subject to 25% taxes on gross revenues and would be regulated by a newly created five-member state commission.
Sen. Roger Bedford (D-Russellville), lead sponsor of the proposal, said Alabama could realize up to $200 million a year from taxing legal bingo.
Some 6,000 jobs were reported lost earlier this year when 22 bingo halls across Alabama closed under pressure from the Riley administration. Riley, who has branded all electronic bingo devices as slot machines, slammed the legalization bill as "the most corrupt piece of legislation ever considered by the Senate."
Also on March 30, the state Supreme Court cited a technicality to throw out a motion by John Tyson, erstwhile director of the Governor's Task Force on Illegal Gambling. Tyson had asked the high court to overrule a county judge's temporary restraining order that prevented his organization from raiding the VictoryLand resort, which operates more than 4,600 electronic bingo devices.
The justices said Tyson's motion was premature since the same legal argument is moving through lower courts. The Supreme Court indicated that it might revisit the issue as early as April 19, depending on results obtained in the Circuit Court.