MONTGOMERY, AL -- Alabama Gov. Bob Riley and his antigambling taskforce got the ruling they wanted on Feb. 5 when the state Supreme Court voted seven to two to permit law enforcement to raid electronic bingo parlors. The verdict invalidated the prior week's temporary restraining order by a circuit court judge, which had prevented the taskforce from raiding the VictoryLand resort in Shorter and the County Crossings resort outside Dothan.
Between them, the two resorts operate more than 7,000 electronic bingo machines. The governor insists electronic bingo machines are illegal; state Attorney General Troy King and some local officials have said they believe certain electronic bingos may be legal under guidelines issued by Alabama's high court last year.
The Supreme Court still has not ruled directly on the legality of electronic bingo machines, and the Feb. 5 verdict addressed only the narrow procedural issue of whether a Macon County judge had proper jurisdiction to issue the TRO that halted the raids. The majority of justices held that he did not.
When the high court's ruling was announced, both resorts shut down their bingo machines and all non-bingo hospitality business enterprises. So did the White Hall Entertainment Center (Lowndes County), which also operates a large number of bingo machines. In addition, some 15 smaller bingo sites around the state shut their doors. One racetrack with bingos remained open at presstime but the director of the antigambling taskforce has warned them to close or face legal action.
VictoryLand's owner said he plans to find a way to reopen with the controversial bingos available. Press reports hinted that resort owners were planning to file a lawsuit against the state.
A number of state lawmakers have sided with bingo operators, in part because large-scale bingo operations and their host resorts provide gainful employment for hundreds of workers. The Senate Judiciary Committee this week will work on a bill that would bar the governor from directing criminal investigations.
The Senate and House Tourism Committees are jointly hearing testimony on proposed constitutional amendments offered by Rep. Marcel Black (D-Tuscumbia) and Sen. Roger Bedford (D-Russellville) that would allow electronic bingo to continue operating in 10 locations around Alabama, subject to a voter referendum this fall.