MONTGOMERY, AL -- Now before Alabama's Supreme Court is another controversial bingo question: how much authority does the Governor's Task Force on Illegal Gambling really have? Is it empowered to conduct raids in every county in the state, or only in the home county of taskforce director, Mobile Co. District Attorney John Tyson?
The issue is before the court because Tyson put it there. He appealed a temporary restraining order issued by a Macon County judge on March 5 blocking the gambling taskforce from raiding the VictoryLand resort and video bingo casino, which operates some 6,400 slot-type bingo devices.
Hours later, VictoryLand reopened, bingos included. Tyson fumed that the order was "corrupt" and filed his appeal, hoping to have it invalidated. But if the high court's eventual ruling goes against him, it may be the taskforce that is invalidated.
Macon County officials have filed their own brief, claiming Tyson did not have the authority to appeal to the Supreme Court. The county government favors keeping VictoryLand's bingos running because the operation employs hundreds of local citizens.
Tyson and Gov. Bob Riley have said repeatedly, and unequivocally, that all electronic bingos are illegal slots. Attorney General Troy King has said just as often that some bingos are legal, but some are not.
The high court itself issued a ruling last year that bingos must meet six criteria to be legal (for example, players must mark the bingo squares themselves; the computer can't do it for them). But the high court did not say explicitly that electronic bingo is legal or illegal.
Some 22 bingo operations around Alabama have closed in the wake of Riley's and Tyson's anti-bingo enforcement campaign, triggering the loss of 6,000 jobs, many protests from citizens and local leaders alike within the state and unflattering national headlines.
Whether or not the high court puts the taskforce out of business, the Alabama Legislature may do so. Lawmakers are considering a bill that would strip the governor -- apart from the state's Department of Justice, under the attorney general -- from undertaking enforcement actions.