MONTGOMERY, AL -- The Alabama Supreme Court on July 30 overruled a Macon County circuit court judge who had earlier issued a preliminary injunction against Gov. Bob Riley's Anti-Gambling Task Force. The high court ruling opens the door for the taskforce to raid or shut down Alabama's last remaining major electronic bingo hall, VictoryLand.
Technically, the Supreme Court sent the case back to the local judge with orders that he must enter a new judgment that conforms to its July 30 ruling. In response, on Aug. 2, taskforce commander John Tyson filed for emergency implementation of the high court ruling.
In turn, the Macon County judge set a hearing for Aug. 5 where he is expected to lift his earlier injunction. Tyson said as soon as the injunction is lifted, his taskforce will act to close VictoryLand, which operates approximately 6,600 electronic bingo devices and employs up to 2,000 workers at peak season.
Riley established his taskforce in December 2008. It has been raiding and shuttering bingo halls statewide for the past 18 months. The vigorous enforcement campaign sparked a storm of controversy that led to numerous lawsuits and noisy public protest rallies at various landmarks here in the state capital. Political disputes over bingo also apparently led to electoral defeat this year for the state's pro-bingo Attorney General Troy King.
Riley continues to claim that bingo machines are illegal slot machines. King had repeatedly said that he believed some of the machines could be legal, citing a November 2009 ruling by the state's high court. That ruling established six criteria for legal bingo games. However, the verdict in that case did not say explicitly that electronic bingos are legal or illegal under Alabama gambling statues.
If VictoryLand closes, it will largely complete Riley's two-year campaign to eliminate Alabama's $2 billion electronic bingo industry. At least one Indian casino continues to operate the devices under a separate legal arrangement between the tribe and the state government.
Pro-bingo forces plan another rally at the Capitol Building on Labor Day, Sept. 6 (see related story). Riley's term will end in January 2011. Both the Republican and Democratic candidates for governor have pledged to mothball the taskforce if elected, so the state's bingo industry could be back in business in a year or two, pending a statewide voter referendum.
Meanwhile, state troopers and the Alabama Bureau of Investigation seized 60 electronic bingos from four bars, restaurants and fraternal organizations in raids around Fultondale on Aug. 4. Law enforcement officials said they acted independently of the governor's taskforce, pursuant to orders by a local district attorney.