MONTGOMERY, AL -- A controversial bill to legalize Alabama's estimated $2 billion electronic bingo market -- and to create a voter referendum on the issue -- appears to be stalled. The state Legislature concluded its regular session on April 21 without a vote by the House of Representatives on the Senate's bingo bill (SB 380).
Rep. Marcel Black, (D-Tuscumbia), the bill’s lead sponsor, pulled it from consideration, saying it lacked enough votes to pass. He also said the issue would not go away, especially because the public will now be faced with higher taxes to make up for the loss of potential tax revenue that legal bingo machines would have generated.
Alabama Gov. Bob Riley, an opponent of electronic bingo, agreed it was "too early to say the bill was dead," since it could be brought up in a special session. Black said that was unlikely.
Opponents said the Senate's bingo bill was eight to 10 votes short of the 63-vote supermajority required for passage. The measure had passed through the state Senate earlier.
For now, the bingo issue remains with the state's law enforcement agencies and courts. Gov. Riley's administration said electronic bingo games should be considered illegal slot machines and seized.
Operators in Alabama have filed lawsuits that contend the legality of electronic bingo, pointing to various local statutes permitting the operation of the machines.
The state Supreme Court said in November 2009 that bingo games are legal if they meet six tests, but the high court's ruling did not specifically say if electronic bingo was legal or illegal.
The Dothan Eagle newspaper reported some bingo halls are still operating, but without court protection. The state's second-largest bingo operator, Country Crossings resort, which runs 1,700 of the machines, said it might move to another state, since lawmakers failed to legalize bingo this week.