Alabama Casinos Pivot From Electronic Bingo to Historical Horse Racing

Posted on: June 16, 2023, 09:35h. 

Last updated on: June 16, 2023, 12:53h.

The three Alabama casinos that were told last year that their electronic bingo machines violate state law aren’t folding on their businesses or their hundreds of workers. Instead, the gaming venues in Macon and Lowndes counties have turned to other gaming devices that have more legal footing.

Alabama casinos bingo historical horse racing HHR
Victoryland Casino in Shorter, Ala. Three Alabama casinos remain in operation despite the state Supreme Court ruling last year that their electronic bingo machines are illegal gambling machines. (Image: Alabama Daily News)

The Alabama Supreme Court last year agreed to hear a lawsuit brought against Victoryland in Shorter, White Hall Entertainment Center, and Southern Star Entertainment Center in Hayneville by Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall (R). The state’s chief prosecutor argued that the electronic gaming machines at the three gaming venues violated the state constitution, which prohibits most forms of commercial gaming.

A lower court ruled on the side of the casinos because residents in their host counties voted to permit bingo gaming through local ballot referendums in 2003. Marshall appealed the matter to the state’s highest court. In a 9-0 decision, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled in September that electronic bingo machines are illegal gambling devices in the Cotton State.

The Alabama Supreme Court order mandated that Victoryland, White Hall, and Southern State remove the electronic bingo devices from their properties by Jan. 15, 2023.

“Electronic bingo machines are a blatant violation of state law, and the Alabama Supreme Court has reaffirmed this time and time again,” Marshall said in a statement this week.

The electronic bingo injunction can now only be lifted through state legalization of the machines.

Casinos Remain Open

Following the state Supreme Court ruling, the three Alabama casinos warned that the decision would result in hundreds of layoffs. Victoryland alone said its 250 employees would be let go and the property would shutter.

But five months after the deadline for the electronic machines to be powered down and vacated from the casinos’ premises, the businesses remain open, with the gaming floors continuing to house slot-like terminals. A report from the Alabama Political Reporter relays that the three casinos are doing just fine after replacing the electronic bingo machines with historical horse racing (HHR) terminals.

Alabama law permits HHR devices at venues holding a pari-mutuel wagering license. HHR machines allow bettors to gamble on previously run horse races, with the track, horses, jockeys, and other important data about the race hidden from the bettor.

The HHR machines provide only the odds for each ambiguous horse. Bettors can also play the machines like a Las Vegas-style slot with spinning reels and symbols. But the betting remains pari-mutuel, with the player provided the option to auto or manually bet on the handicapped outcome.

Jobs Saved

Speaking with the Alabama Political Reporter, Victoryland President Lewis Benefield says the casino replaced its bingo machines with HHR terminals following the state Supreme Court judgment.

Those HHR machines are legal, pari-mutuel wagering according to opinions from the AG’s office, and we pay all the applicable taxes on the pari-mutuel wagering. Our business has picked up over the last few months,” Benefield explained.

Benefield says the HHR machines allowed Victoryland to stay in operation and for the casino to retain its 250-person workforce. He said he’d hire another 250 employees “if I could find” the help.