MONTGOMERY, AL -- The latest round in what the Alabama Supreme Court has called the "three-ring circus" of the state's electronic bingo market saw VictoryLand resort reopen last week, complete with more than 6,400 electronic bingo machines that owners say are legal under criteria set forth last year by the high court.
In a familiar pattern, a local judge issued a temporary restraining order, ruling that the Governor's Task Force on Illegal Gambling could not raid the venue nor seize its bingo machines. Yet taskforce director John Tyson said, also in a familiar move, that all electronic bingo machines are illegal and that his organization would enforce the law. Tyson also said the TRO that barred the VictoryLand raid was "a poster child for corruption."
Meanwhile, Gov. Bob Riley said that he opposes a statewide voter referendum on bingo legality this fall for reasons of constitutional procedure. Such a referendum could enable slot-type gambling businesses to operate with impunity across Alabama, Riley said. But if the mechanism of the referendum itself were approved by a simple majority of the state legislature, said the governor, it would circumvent the current constitutional requirement for a three-fifths vote of lawmakers in order to enact any changes in state gambling laws.
Adding to the circus atmosphere, high-profile political activist Rev. Jesse Jackson visited Montgomery on March 4, where he met with Riley and state Attorney General Troy King. Jackson said Riley's aggressive use of pistol-wielding state troopers to close bingo halls was "very provocative and dangerous," and that the issue should be resolved peacefully in court.
Jackson also said that he is organizing a new March On Poverty to protest an estimated 6,000 or more jobs that were lost in Alabama after nearly two dozen bingo operations shut down under pressure from Riley.
The original March On Poverty occurred in Washington, DC, in 1968 and was organized by Jackson's onetime mentor, the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. King was assassinated one month before the event, but the protest was staged regardless to urge Congress to pass national jobs legislation.