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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP/WSFA) - The Alabama Supreme Court has dealt electronic bingo a setback in a case from White Hall that questioned the legality of the popular gambling machines. In a 6-3 decision Friday, the court struck down a preliminary injunction that kept the Governor's Task Force on Illegal Gambling from conducting another raid on White Hall Resort and Entertainment Center, 20 miles west of Montgomery.
The court did not make a final determination on the legality of electronic bingo throughout Alabama, but the majority of the justices questioned the legality of the games used in White Hall.
Gov. Bob Riley called the decision a victory in his battle to shut down the machines.
Attorneys for the White Hall gambling hall and the charity that operate said the court's decision applies only to the machines seized in White Hall.
The court case stemmed from a task force raid on the White Hall gambling center in March and seizure of 105 gambling machines and more than $500,000 in cash.
The charitable organization that operates the facility, Cornerstone Community Outreach, argued that the machines were legal electronic bingo games. The group persuaded a judge to issue a preliminary injunction against future raids. The preliminary injunction also required the task force to return the machines and cash seized in the raid.
The governor appealed to the state Supreme Court. The state's highest court put the preliminary injunction on hold in April and reversed it Friday.
The court said Cornerstone failed to demonstrate that it had a reasonable likelihood of showing that seized machines "constituted the game of bingo."
Governor Bob Riley believes the ruling goes beyond White Hall, saying he thinks it gives him a green light to remove similar machines from anywhere in the state.
Attorney General Troy King's office issued a one sentence statement saying, "Today’s ruling by the Supreme Court in which it decided how electronic bingo must be played in Alabama has created a defacto monopoly for Indian electronic bingo in the state.”
Though Riley and King are both conservative republicans, the issue of electronic bingo has driven a wedge between the two men in recent years.
Governor Riley's believes, "...all these so-called electronic bingo machines in Alabama are illegal and it's time for them to go.”
Riley went on to says, “This Supreme Court decision answers all the questions. There is no way any prosecutor, up to and including the attorney general, can claim any longer that the law is not clear. The court says bingo means exactly what all of us know it means. These machines don't meet the definition of bingo. Anyone who now claims the law is not settled is just trying to find an excuse to keep slot machines in Alabama. I call on the attorney general and all district attorneys to shut down these illegal gambling halls once and for all.”
Here's what Governor Riley believes the ruling means per a news release:
The ruling states plainly on page 34, “In short, as the Riley defendants put it, the machines at issue ‘have none of the elements of human skill and interaction that are fundamental to the game of bingo.’”
The ruling spelled out certain criteria that must be met to qualify as a legal game of bingo. Specifically, on page 48, the ruling states:
“Based on the foregoing, we must conclude that the term ‘bingo’ as used in Amendment No. 674 was intended to reference the game commonly or traditionally known as bingo. The characteristics of that game include the following:
1. Each player uses one or more cards with spaces arranged in five columns and five rows, with an alphanumeric or similar designation assigned to each space.
2. Alphanumeric or similar designations are randomly drawn and announced one by one.
3. In order to play, each player must pay attention to the values announced; if one of the values matches a value on one or more of the player's cards, the player must physically act by marking his or her card accordingly.
4. A player can fail to pay proper attention or to properly mark his or her card, and thereby miss an opportunity to be declared a winner.
5. A player must recognize that his or her card has a ‘bingo,’ i.e., a predetermined pattern of matching values, and in turn announce to the other players and the announcer that this is the case before any other player does so.
6. The game of bingo contemplates a group activity in which multiple players compete against each other to be the first to properly mark a card with the predetermined winning pattern and announce that fact.”
Beginning on page 32 of the opinion, the Court also states that even the one local constitutional amendment that mentions electronic marking devices to play bingo cannot be interpreted to authorize anything other than the ordinary game of bingo:
“In contrast to the use of merely the term ‘bingo games’ in Amendment No. 508 -- the same terminology present in Amendment No. 674 at issue here -- Ala. Const. 1901, Amendment No. 743 (Local Amendments, Greene County, § 1, Ala. Const.1901 (Off. Recomp.)), legalizes in Greene County a form of bingo that would include an ‘electronic marking machine’ in lieu of a paper card. Even that amendment, which is the only amendment in Alabama we have located that makes any reference to the use of electronic equipment of any form, contemplates a game in all material respects similar to the game of bingo described in § 45-8-150(1), and something that is materially different from the types of electronic gaming machines at issue here. Amendment No. 743 begins by saying that ‘bingo’ is ‘[t]hat specific kind of game commonly known as bingo.’ The definition then explains that bingo is a game ‘in which prizes are awarded on the basis of designated numbers or symbols on a card or electronic marking machine conforming to numbers or symbols selected at random.’”
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. WSFA 12 News contributed to this report. All Rights Reserved.)
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