Just because Alabama doesn’t have legalized casino gambling doesn’t mean that the state needs to miss out on all of the regulatory fun. On Thursday, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley signed an executive order stating that sheriffs and district attorneys should be the primary enforcer of state gambling laws, not the state itself. This move came as a result of perceived ‘unequal enforcement of Alabama’s criminal laws’ in recent years, according to Bentley.
To date, the state has spent millions of dollars attempting to enforce tight bingo litigation, but this new mandate could go a long way toward minimizing future expenditures. The most memorable case occurred in 2013, when state officials raided the VictoryLand casino and seized 1,615 gambling machines and $260,000 in cash as a result of illegal operations. The machines featured spinning reels and flashing lights, much like slot machines, but VictoryLand executives insisted that the inner workings were actually playing bingo, making them legal under state laws allowing bingo games.
Despite the objections, VictoryLand’s machines have remained in state custody while pending litigation continues. According to those familiar with the case, Bentley’s executive order will have no effect on the outcome of the VictoryLand proceedings, but the effects may have already rippled through the case.
Montgomery County Circuit Judge William Shashy previously dismissed the VictoryLand case, stating that it is unlawful for Alabama to shut down the Macon County casino while similar casinos continue to operate in other areas of the state. Shashy also ordered the state to return the seized machines by November 16. The attorney general’s office disagreed, appealing the decision to the state’s Supreme Court. Likewise, the attorney general’s office has requested a stay on Shashy’s ruling to return the bingo machines, as the Supreme Court has previously deemed them illegal under state law.
Former Governor Bob Riley originally created a gambling task force to take action against casinos such as VictoryLand, but Bentley disbanded this task force shortly after taking office. Instead, he appointed the state’s attorney general in charge of enforcement of gambling laws. With his newly inked executive order, it appears that Bentley is now flipping the script once again, igniting the question over who should control the state’s existing and future gambling litigation.
In the meantime, VictoryLand owner Milton McGregor is making plans to reopen the controversial casino. Leaning on a 1983 constitutional amendment authorizing the play of all forms of bingo, McGregor is attempting to capitalize on Shashy’s ruling. For residents of Macon County, this could be great news. Before it was raided, VictoryLand was the county’s second largest employer. As a result, its close had a major impact on the area’s citizens and economy.
Once again, the fate of the Alabama gambling landscape will likely depend on a decision by the state’s Supreme Court. For reference, they’ll most likely take another look at Alabama’s official six-part definition of the game of bingo before making a decision.
While much of the country is capitalizing on the economic benefits of casino gaming, Alabama continues to flounder in the technicalities of electronic gaming machines. Whether VictoryLand is allowed to reopen or its equipment remains seized, at least Alabamians can look forward to relief from tax spending following the Governor’s most recent executive order.