Gaming center remains closed after raid

Agents wheel suspected illegal gaming machines from the White Hall gaming center.
Agents wheel suspected illegal gaming machines from the White Hall gaming center.

WHITE HALL, AL (WSFA) -- The White Hall Gaming Center remained closed Friday, the day after authorities raided the complex and seized 101 suspected illegal gaming machines and more than $560,000 in cash.

Late Thursday afternoon an attorney for the charity that runs the complex filed four court motions to stop the seizures. Attorney Collins Pettaway said he hoped to have the center back in business soon after a judge issues a protective order. Pettaway filed for a declaratory judgement, a restraining order, a complaint for permanent injunction and a motion to quash the search warrant in Lowndes County Circuit Court, but the judge immediately recused himself. The case has now been handed to former Supreme Court Justice Mark Kennedy.

David Barber, Commander of Governor Bob Riley's Task Force on Illegal Gambling, held a news conference Friday morning where he declined to answer questions on whether or not more raids were planned.

This case is now being called a test case to cement what exactly constitutes legal and illegal gaming machines in the state of Alabama. Barber gave a laymen's definition of what the state says a slot machine is defined as. "The definition of a slot machine in Alabama, the statutory definition and the court rulings that have followed that, basically say if the machine was originally designed as a slot machine, is a slot machine presently or is readily adaptable or convertible to become a slot machine, it's a slot machine," Barber stated.

The controversy started at 5:00am Thursday when law-enforcement officers from the Alabama Bureau of Investigation and State Police from the ABC Board walked into the gaming center with guns drawn. What followed was a full day of game machine confiscations.

Barber said there were approximately 950 machines inside the building when authorities began their raid.  "I've had undercover people in playing these machines," he said. "These people were trained back in January specifically on slot machines and on Alabama law of what a slot machine and gambling device is." Those agents came back and reported that many of the machines appeared to be illegal slot machines, not bingo machines.

Barber said though it's believed all the machines are illegal, the Task Force would confiscate only a representative sample of each of the different kinds, what ended up being 101 in total.  That way Barber said, "The court [will have] the whole picture of what we're claiming is illegal." The machines were taken to the state surplus warehouse were they will remain until a court can determine their legality. Barber said at his news conference Friday that the $560,000 that was seized was just three days worth of proceeds.

LOCAL IMPACT

The raid may have an impact on the already struggling Lowndes County economy. The county's unemployment rate already stands at 17 percent. One gaming center employee said, "I'm fixing to leave here and go cash my check." After that, she said she was planning to go to the unemployment office.

For one gaming center customer things might not be so bad. After hearing of the raid the man said, "That'll be fine with me. Maybe I'll save some money."

WSFA 12 News will continue to follow this case and its developments. Friday night at 10:00 WSFA 12 News Anchor Bob Howell will continue with his special report Gambling in Alabama.