Alabama Bingo King Milton McGregor Dies Aged 78

Posted on: March 26, 2018, 02:00h. 

Last updated on: March 26, 2018, 01:35h.

Gambling mogul Milton McGregor, who waged the “Alabama Bingo War” against his home state, died peacefully in his home on Sunday, aged 78.

Victoryland owner Milton McGregor dies
“You Can Be a Winner Too!” as Victoryland owner Milton McGregor, who died peacefully at home on Sunday, would remind folks in Alabama on his TV ads. McGregor fought a long battle against the state to keep his casino open, and ultimately, he won.         (Image: Dave Martin/AP)

The larger than life co-founder of the Victoryland dog-track was a household name in Alabama, where opportunities to gamble are few and far between.

McGregor transformed the dog track he acquired in 1984 into an electronic bingo casino that, at its height, employed 3,000 people and had 6,400 gambling machines, more than many Las Vegas casinos. To compete with the casinos of north Mississippi, he added a 300-room hotel, with restaurants.

Many praised him for bringing jobs to the economically struggling Macon County, but his decision to bet the farm on electronic bingo machines eventually brought him into direct conflict with the state, which made several attempts to close the casino and prosecute its owner.

A Long Draught in a Gamble-Dry State

Alabama is one of a smattering of states that does not even have a lottery. Its constitution prohibits all gambling, but local referenda can carve out exceptions for bingo and racetrack parimutuel betting.

Macon County voters authorized charity bingo in 2003 in one such referendum and McGregor brought in his gambling machines, ensuring that a cut went to local good causes.

Victoryland has raised some $300 million for various charities in the state during over the years, and that ensured McGregor largely had the backing of locals.

“It was successful a lot faster than I ever dreamed,” McGregor told the Montgomery Advertiser in 2014. “The experts told us we could expect $50 million per year, and I didn’t believe it. That first year, we were both wrong – we did $164 million. That was a pleasant surprise.”

But then-governor Bob Riley was not impressed and, in 2008, backed by an Alabama Supreme Court ruling that broadened the definition of “slot machines” to include McGregor’s bingo terminals, he ordered a crackdown.

He Fought the Law

Having faced numerous raids and threats to shutter the casino, McGregor closed it down himself in 2010. Just weeks later he was arrested and accused of buying votes at the Alabama State House to advance gambling legislation. In 2012, he was completely acquitted.

“Now I’m focused on getting 3,000 people back to work and charities and governmental agencies receiving revenue, as they should have been all the time,” McGregor told the Associated Press on the steps of the courthouse.

State opposition remained, though, and McGregor struggled to reopen the casino. But ultimately, he lived to see a victory for Victoryland, of sorts.

In 2015, Governor Robert Bentley and Attorney General Luther Strange agreed a truce that would allow local officials to enforce gambling laws. Victoryland reopened in the fall of 2016, with 502 machines.

“It has been a long time coming, and I’m just happy the people stuck it out with us,” McGregor said. “We had a lot of trials in this, but I’m proud to be open, proud to be employing people in Macon County again, and I’m very proud to see the people still are behind us.”