MONTGOMERY, AL -- After the $87 million County Crossing resort opened on Dec. 1 near rural Dothan, AL, with 1,710 electronic bingo machines, it seemed to be just a matter of time before it would be raided by state law enforcement officials. Alabama Gov. Bob Riley had warned repeatedly that in his opinion all of the slot-style bingo machines are illegal. The governor made loud public vows to shut down any and all bingo operations.
But early last week, the administration's planned raid on County Crossing was preempted at the last minute. Circuit Judge P.B. McLauchlin issued a temporary restraining order at 1:30 a.m. on Jan. 6 ... less than three hours before the 4 a.m. raid was scheduled to commence.
Houston County Commissioner Mark Culver personally delivered the middle-of-the-night TRO to the governor's task force on illegal gambling. When he arrived with the freshly signed document in hand, law enforcement officers were massing their forces in preparation to raid County Crossing. Some 100 officers from the Alabama Bureau of Investigation, Alabama State Troopers and the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board had to return home with 10 empty tractor-trailer trucks that had been intended to haul away seized bingo devices.
Culver said Houston County had filed an emergency motion the previous day to stop the raid because commissioners wanted to protect 1,300 local jobs. County Crossing is a sprawling complex with a large hotel, multiple restaurants and an amphitheater.
Other local officials accused Riley of pursuing a "personal vendetta" for political reasons. Comments from Riley's staff were equally barbed. The morning after the aborted raid, the governor's press secretary claimed the incident amounted to "obstruction of law enforcement" and spoke ominously of "criminal activity" and "the power of organized gambling and casino bosses."
A court hearing on the matter is set for Jan. 20. A state Supreme Court ruling last year set forth six conditions that bingo machines must meet in order to be legal in Alabama. But great confusion and disagreement remains among government officials and private industry about the interpretation and practical application of the high court's ruling.