Alabama State Lawsuit Claiming Casinos Are Public Nuisances Proceeds

Posted on: September 27, 2020, 12:39h. 

Last updated on: September 26, 2020, 11:59h.

The Alabama Supreme Court has ruled that two lawsuits brought by the state against three casinos arguing that the gaming venues are nuisances to the public can proceed.

Alabama casinos VictoryLand Wind Creek
Don’t call them slot machines. Gamblers seen here are testing their luck on electronic bingo terminals at VictoryLand in Shorter, Alabama. (Image: Montgomery Advertiser)

State lawmakers and officials have for years been trying to shut down gambling halls that have electronic bingo games that closely resemble slot machines.

VictoryLand in Macon County, and White Hall Entertainment and Southern Star Entertainment in Lowndes County, were named in two separate 2017 lawsuits filed by state officials in the two counties. The complaints seek to declare the gambling establishments as public nuisances and force them to close.

State circuit court judges dismissed the lawsuits on grounds that they lacked the authority to rule on whether the venues are nuisances to the public. The Supreme Court, however, says they do, and this week returned the cases to the respective counties.

Gambling Controversies

Commercial gambling is illegal in Alabama. The state’s only federally recognized tribe, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians,  operates two Native American casinos. Wind Creek Wetumpka and Wind Creek Montgomery are Class II gaming establishments, as the state has refused to enter into a gaming compact with the tribe to allow them to operate Class III gaming, which includes slot machines and table games.

Since the Wind Creek properties are located on the tribe’s sovereign land, the casinos can offer electronic bingo games under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). VictoryLand, White Hall Entertainment, and Southern Star Entertainment are not owned by a federally recognized tribe, but by private companies.

Owners of the three casinos argued in lower courts that the lawsuits failure to involve the Wind Creek properties was grounds for dismissal.

The Wind Creek casinos operate openly and notoriously, and are many times larger,” the defendants said in Lowndes Court. “‘Indian gaming’ is legal or illegal is irrelevant to the State’s claims because legal conduct can also constitute a public nuisance.”

The lower courts agreed, saying that even if they believed they did have the authority to rule on the public nuisance subject matter, the complaint “would be dismissed … for failure to include indispensable parties.”

The Supreme Court, however, said the Poarch Indians’ properties are not “indispensable parties” to the lawsuits, and therefore have no bearing on grounds to dismiss the cases. The cases now return to the county courts.

Complicated Law

Alabama law permits bingo for charitable purposes, and the three casinos in question donate heavily to nonprofits with their net winnings.

For years, owners of the electronic bingo casinos have managed to evade the law, despite being targeted with countless lawsuits. The Supreme Court’s decision, however, means this round isn’t over.

VictoryLand has around 500 bingo terminals. White Hall offers approximately 900 gaming positions, and Southern Star around 350 machines.