MONTGOMERY, AL -- The stage is set for a major confrontation over electronic bingo in Alabama beginning on Wednesday, Dec. 2, when a new ruling by the state Supreme Court takes effect for the state's $2 billion a year bingo machine market.
Attorney General Troy King said this week that he has asked 18 local district attorneys across Alabama to enforce the high court's ban on bingo machines that fail to meet a six-point test. "We have to go in and make sure the machines are, in fact, noncompliant with the Supreme Court's test and, if they are [noncompliant], then those machines will be seized and people prosecuted," King said.
Gov. Bob Riley said this month's high court ruling means all electronic bingos are illegal, period. In a statement, Riley said, "I am calling on the attorney general and district attorneys, regardless of what their personal preferences may be on this issue, to honor their oaths of office to uphold the laws and the constitution of Alabama and to stop any organization that is violating the law." Riley had earlier formed his own taskforce to eliminate the devices statewide.
Yet local officials across the state have spoken out in favor of electronic bingos, saying they create jobs, support charities and boost the region's economy. In fact, the 18 Alabama counties targeted by King have ratified constitutional amendments that explicitly legalize bingo.
Ground zero for the next round of bingo confrontations may be in Country Crossing, a massive $70 million entertainment park set to open outside the city of Dothan next week. The facility will include 1,700 electronic bingo machines as well as several restaurants, a hotel and a 10,000-seat amphitheater.
According to King, the Supreme Court verdict states that bingos are legal only if they feature player participation; 25-square bingo cards displayed in a 5x5 configuration on a paper card or visible monitor; winning number-letter combinations that are announced one at a time; a requirement for players to physically mark their individual cards; players competing against each other (rather than against a machine or against the house); and players must shout "bingo!" when they win.
In a letter to district attorneys statewide, the attorney general said he expects "substantial new litigation across the state as vendors and manufacturers attempt to reconfigure technology used in existing machines and to devise completely new technology in an effort to comply" with the Supreme Court's litmus tests.
King also said he does not believe the issue will be resolved until it is settled by a statewide voter referendum. No such referendum is scheduled at present.
Alabama's $2 Billion Electronic Bingo Market In Uproar
(Earlier report, from Nov. 20)
WALKER COUNTY, AL -- A reported 1,100 workers here lost their jobs when a district court judge shut down local electronic bingo parlor operations in late October. Last week hundreds of these unemployed citizens showed up to participate in a noisy protest outside city hall as the same judge refused to stay his order, pending a ruling on the bingo controversy by the Alabama Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, Gov. Bob Riley has been accused by political opponents -- including one former member of his own cabinet -- of taking campaign money from Mississippi Indian casinos that wanted him to crack down on electronic bingos. Bingo is considered competition for the reservation casinos, which encourage Alabamans to cross state lines to gamble in Mississippi. Riley's administration has denied the charge.
In the latest developments, the state supreme court on Nov. 13 handed down a 6-3 ruling that allows the governor's Task Force on Illegal Gambling to continue raiding illegal bingo halls. Gov. Riley's office immediately issued a statement that the ruling means all electronic bingo devices are illegal; however, several local press reports did not support that interpretation. But administration officials went father, sending letters to gaming commissions in seven other states that host bingo manufacturers, urging them to crack down on any shipments to Alabama.
Adding to the confusion, Alabama's high court ruling also provided a new six-point definition of legal bingo. Several bingo operators instantly announced that their machines can, or will, comply with the court's definition.
Accordingly, it appears that despite this new 59-page state supreme court decision, the Alabama electronic bingo industry can expect more police raids, more court fights, and more disputes over the legal status of bingo machines.