The Poarch Creek Indians have made a big change to their brand new Riverside game center in Wetumpka.
The tribe has reprogrammed gambling games that looked like and played like slot machines. They'll now play bingo against people in several states. It's the latest wrinkle in the controversy surrounding the gaming hall.
Weeks before opening day, the tribe claimed it was building a bingo hall, but when it opened, people found slot- like machines the Indians called bingo, but prosecutors called trouble. Today, they're replaced by video bingo.
Player Verlene Tucker isn't happy with the change. "I like the slot machines a lot more than the bingo machines," she said, "The bingo ain't got nothing'. I'm very disappointed!"
Poarch Creek managers refused to allow us to shoot video of the games, but we did see them. It's like traditional bingo, but instead of ping pong balls and cards, players use video terminals to compete against hundreds of people on other Indian reservations.
That's ok with one of the game room's biggest critics, District Attorney Randall Houston. "Bingo is what they're legally authorized to do," he said, "and as long as they're playing bingo, there's no problem from the DA's office."
But one key question remains. Why would the Poarch Creeks suddenly change their operations overnight from the highly profitable but controversial slot machines to much lower priced networked bingo machines? Was it political pressure from the governor, attorney general or prosecutors? Or was it the threat of investigation by the National Indian Gaming Commission?
We wanted to ask Tribal Chairman Eddie Tullis those questions, but he was unavailable for comment. Despite the latest change, it may be temporary. The games can still be reprogrammed quickly to become slot machines, or so called Class Three games. Houston says he's wary of that.
"If the situation changes and they revert them back to what I believe to be an improper use," Houston warned, "then yes, we're going to be discussing that."
And just to make sure it doesn't happen, Houston says he's still asking Indian Gaming Commission investigators to look at the hall.