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Issue Date: Vol. 50, No. 10, October 2010, Posted On: 9/16/2010

Alabama's Last Bingo Hall Loses Court Protection

Marcus Webb
electronic bingo machine, bingo, Alabama bingo, video poker, video gaming machines, amusements, amusement operator, judge Tom Young, Gov. Bob Riley, obert Bentley, Ron Sparks

SHORTER, AL -- Macon County circuit court judge Tom Young has withdrawn his temporary restraining order that earlier blocked the Governor's Task Force on Illegal Gambling from raiding VictoryLand, a resort that operates electronic bingo games.

The ruling was the latest in a confusing and conflicting series of verdicts by local and state courts on the controversial games.

Protected by Young's order, VictoryLand had operated the state's largest, and last remaining, bingo hall. Dozens of bingo operations were raided and shut down by the taskforce over the past two years or closed voluntarily.

On Aug. 11, the state Supreme Court denied the taskforce power to stage an immediate raid on VictoryLand, saying there was no present emergency to justify the action.

Yet on Sept. 3, the same Supreme Court effectively voided Young's restraining order anyway. The high court declined to revisit an earlier decision that said the taskforce can stage raids in Macon County. Young lifted his TRO in response.

VictoryLand closed earlier this summer to prevent its being raided, then reopened in mid-August without bingo games. VictoryLand attorney John Bolton said that despite the loss of the TRO, the taskforce lacks probable cause to raid the establishment since the bingo games it still possesses are not in operation.

Taking a contrary view, taskforce commander John Tyson made statements that appear to suggest mere possession of electronic bingos would justify a raid on VictoryLand. Tyson added, however, that he would not telegraph the taskforce's specific actions or timing in advance.

Gov. Bob Riley, who founded the taskforce two years ago, leaves office next January. Both of Alabama's Republican and Democratic gubernatorial candidates, Robert Bentley and Ron Sparks, support a public referendum on electronic bingo.

Democrat Sparks said Alabama already has 16 separate constitutional amendments authorizing electronic bingo. "On my first day as governor, I'm going to shut that taskforce down and get those casinos back opened," Sparks told the Birmingham News. "Then I'm going to ask the Legislature to take up legislation that will allow for a vote of the people, who can then decide whether they want gambling or not."

Republican Bentley also has said he will suspend taskforce operations.

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