Bingo Battle: Day one

David Barber, head of Governor Riley's Task Force on Illegal Gambling, listens to proceedings 3/25/09.
David Barber, head of Governor Riley's Task Force on Illegal Gambling, listens to proceedings 3/25/09.

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - The aftershocks are starting to appear nearly a week after a raid on the White Hall Gaming Center in Lowndes County where more than half-a-million dollars and over 100 electronic gaming machines were seized. On Wednesday the center's owners were in court fighting to get their money and machines back.

The issue of the day had nothing to do with whether or not the machines are illegal, as Governor Bob Riley's Task Force on Illegal Gambling contends. That matter will be taken up at a later date. Wednesday's focus was on getting the White Hall Gaming Center back in business and the owner's motions to have the money and machines returned.

The defense says it would cost them nearly $400,000 to reopen without the machines and they estimate for each day they are closed they lose more than $100,000 in business. There are also more than 100 employees who are effectively out of a job until the matter is resolved. Add $250,000 to the mix that the center says it won't be able to give to charities next week and there is a major push to get the business up and going again.

"The highest law enforcement officer in this state [Attorney General Troy King] has issued a release that says it's legal," said Joe Espy, attorney for the equipment owners. " Espy said he thought Governor Riley, "...thinks he's a dictator, the king," adding that Riley has usurped the Attorney General's authority. While AG King has not commented on this case, he has said in the past that there are some forms of electronic bingo, in his opinion, that are legal in Alabama.

Another issues brought up in court was why law enforcement officers used forced in the raid, moving into the gaming center with guns drawn. "No, I don't have any second thoughts about it," said David Barber, who head's up the Governor's Task Force. Barber said there was information that lead them to believe there were armed guards in the building and, "..You don't go in and say, ' hey, look ya'll please put down your guns.'" Barber said a semi-automatic gun was taken from an elderly security guard.

White Hall Gaming Center attorney Collins Pettaway said the raid wasn't "...just a game or a political football that's being played." He said it's people's lives and livelihoods that are being affected and urged use of law to protect those people from "government going too far."

There is a lot of attention being paid to this case, one that is being called a test-case to determine what is and is not legal in Alabama. Representatives from GreenTrack, Indian gaming facilities and even a casino in Biloxi, Mississippi were on hand for the hearings.

The hearings resume at 10:00am Thursday where former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Mark Kennedy will continue presiding. At Governor Riley's request Kennedy will recuse himself after the preliminary proceedings are over. Kennedy has done work in the past for the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. He has suggested a Lowndes County judge take over after he steps down.