Ala. AG files suit to shut down Poarch Creek casinos

WETUMPKA, AL (WSFA) - Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange filed a lawsuit Tuesday morning in an Elmore County Circuit Court to stop the operation of what his office considers illegal slot machines at casinos owned by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.

Strange contends that the Poarch Band has an obligation to comply with state laws that prohibit slot-machine gambling in Alabama.

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley said he learned about the lawsuit around the time it was filed Tuesday and said he agrees with the attorney general's position.

State authorities cannot enforce state law on Indian lands or execute a search warrant due to the federal protection guaranteed to Native American reservations. But even though the AG conceded that state police can't seize the machines, he still feels the Indians are 'violating state law.'

Dana Dunn feels somewhere along the line this business of trying to close Indian gambling operations has got to stop.

"Federal law trumps state law and the Indians were here long before we were," said Dunn, a Wetumpka resident.

Wetumpka Mayor Jerry Willis says that Wetumpka learned long ago the city didn't have a legal case against the Indians in their desire to have gambling.

In 2000 city leaders at the time tried to do the same thing Strange is doing now. The law firm representing Wetumpka strongly advised them not go forward with the its 2000 lawsuit because the U.S. Department of Interior had given the Indians permission to have gambling.

"It just seems to me you got a lot of people who benefit from these jobs at the casino," said Rhonda Williams, also a Wetumpka resident.

The Poarch Band Creeks tell WSFA 12 News their slot machines are legal under federal law. The Indians added the 'attorney general has no jurisdiction or enforcement over Tribal land or Tribal gaming operations.'

For now construction continues at the Wetumpka casino and it shows no signs of slowing down in the face of the lawsuit by Strange.

"Unlawful gambling is a statewide problem, and I have worked with local authorities to enforce Alabama law consistently and fairly throughout the state," Strange said. "I have sent two letters to the National Indian Gaming Commission, asking them to stop the Poarch Band's unlawful gambling, but the Commission has refused to do anything about it. The Commission's inaction has left me with no choice but to file this lawsuit," Strange said. Attorney General Strange sent letters to the National Indian Gaming Commission on Feb. 11, 2011, and again on April 25, 2012, which asked the Commission to take action against the Poarch Tribe.

Strange also stated that he has lobbied Congress to stop the expansion of Indian gaming to new areas within the state.

Attorney General Strange's lawsuit comes at the same time as Alabama State Troopers were ordered to raid Victoryland casino, a non-Indian gaming facility in Macon County. A search warrant was served in Macon County by law enforcement agents from his office as well as the Alabama Department of Public Safety. That raid ended with the seizure of several hundred gambling machines and an undisclosed amount of cash.

Attorney for Victoryland, Joe Espy, III, while addressing the actions surrounding the facility he represents, called the attorney general's lawsuit on Indian casinos a "smokescreen" and a waste of taxpayer money because he says the AG knows he can't go after the Indian casinos.

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