MONTGOMERY, AL -- Gov. Bob Riley won a major victory on May 21 when the state Supreme Court ruled that Attorney General Troy King was out of bounds last spring when he took over the Governor's Task Force on Illegal Gambling.
In a surprise move last March, King shut down the taskforce, ending its predawn raids on Alabama's bingo halls. Those raids will now resume, observers predicted. At least one local prosecution of an electronic bingo operator in Etowah County will now proceed as a consequence of the May 21 verdict.
King said he will honor the ruling and cede all bingo enforcement operations to the governor. For his part, Riley seemed to suggest that the verdict not only permits more raids by the taskforce, but also endorses his view that all electronic bingo games are illegal. "This ruling should put the nail in the coffin for so-called electronic bingo in this state," Riley told reporters.
The high court did not, in fact, make any explicit ruling on the legal status of electronic bingo. But the verdict did state that Riley has legal precedent on his side from three or more lower court rulings when he claims the term "bingo" refers only to the traditional paper game.
The Supreme Court ruling grew from a lawsuit filed by White Hall Entertainment Center (Lowndes County), which closed after being raided by the taskforce.
The justices endorsed a broad view of the governor's constitutional authority in their opinion on the taskforce issue. "If the governor's 'supreme executive power' means anything, it means that when the governor makes a determination that the laws are not being faithfully executed, he can act using the legal means that are at his disposal," the court said.
Some electronic bingo halls like Victoryland (Shorter) continue to operate under legal protection from county judges, who issued restraining orders to block raids by the governor's antigambling taskforce. Riley has already filed appeals to the state Supreme Court in an effort to invalidate these local injunctions.