Alabama AG Sues to Shut Down Charity Bingo Operators Offering Slots

Posted on: October 5, 2017, 06:00h. 

Last updated on: October 5, 2017, 03:40h.

Alabama Attorney General Steven Marshall has filed numerous lawsuits against charity bingo halls, claiming they’re operating illegal slot machines in violation of the state constitution.

Alabama casinos bingo attorney general
The Alabama attorney general says if it looks like a slot machine, operates like a slot machine, and sounds like a slot machine, well then, it’s a slot machine, not electronic bingo. (Image: Mike Cason/Alabama Media Group)

In his lawsuits, Marshall asked courts stop via preliminary injunctions what he says are illegal gambling operations and public nuisances.

Seventeen counties in Alabama have adopted constitutional amendments to authorize charity bingo in their jurisdictions. But Marshall says games found in at least five counties have extended bingo into an digital spinning format that is essentially a slot machine.

“It is the responsibility of the Attorney General to ensure that Alabama’s laws are enforced, including those laws that prohibit illegal gambling,” Marshall said in a statement about the lawsuits. “Through multiple rulings in recent years, the Alabama Supreme Court has made it abundantly clear that electronic bingo and the use of slot machines are illegal in all Alabama counties. Therefore, we have taken action to hold accountable those who defy the laws of our state.”

Marshall’s legal action covers venues in Greene, Houston, Lowndes, Macon, and Morgan counties. In addition to actual bingo parlors, several gaming device manufacturers that supply machines are named in the lawsuits. Defendants also include Macon County Sheriff Andrew Brunson and Green County Sheriff Joe Benison.

Alabama Slammer

On Thursday, a day after Marshall’s suits were served, the “casino” operators fired back, arguing that the quick-play machines are still bingo games, and that the spinning displays and sounds are for entertainment purposes only. They contend the games are legal under constitutional amendments approved by voters in their counties.

They at the same time argued that the games are similar or identical to what’s played in casinos operated by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, who own and operate Wind Creek casino resorts in Atmore, Wetumpka, and Montgomery.

Representatives said if their bingo terminals are removed, the only Native American tribe in Alabama that operates casinos, would hold a monopoly on gaming, which would lead to reduced tax revenue for the state. In other states, games offered at Poarch Creek casinos are more generally referred to as slots.

Non-tribal operators also contend that outlawing their devices would result in lost jobs.

“Marshall’s actions have real-life consequences. By his own hand, Marshall has now jeopardized the jobs of 115 mothers, fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers,” Greenetrack CEO Luther Winn told the Associated Press.

Greenetrack is a greyhound and horse racetrack, with an accompanying bingo parlor, or illegal slot machine facility, depending on which side of the issue the law falls.

Stopping Dirty Games

Alabama is one of just six states without a lottery. In 2016, then-Governor Robert Bentley pushed to allow lottery sales after drastic cuts to state spending and elimination of government waste failed to offset Alabama’s budget deficit.

Bentley urged lawmakers to pass a bill that would put a lottery ballot question before voters last November. The referendum, had it been approved, also would have authorized slot machines at dog and horse racetracks.

But state lawmakers, heavily influenced by their strongly conservative constituency, opted not to proceed with such a measure.

Alabama’s odds of seeing casino gambling legalized lengthened when Bentley resigned from office in April after a scandal involving an alleged affair with one of his senior advisors revealed possible misappropriation of campaign funds. In a deal with state lawmakers, Bentley avoided criminal prosecution by forfeiting his retirement benefits and accepting a lifetime ban from ever holding public office in Alabama.