Alabama Supreme Court tells lower courts to stop electronic bingo in 2 counties

Published: Sep. 30, 2022 at 1:48 PM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Alabama’s attorney general is reacting after the Alabama Supreme Court ruled in favor of state’s favor in its ongoing fight against electronic gaming machines, striking a blow to gambling operations in two counties.

On Friday, the state’s highest court issued orders to cease engaging in “illegal gambling activities” pertaining to defendants in Macon and Lowndes counties, home to facilities including Victoryland, White Hall Entertainment and Southern Star.

None of the named facilities have publicly commented on the high court’s order, as of Friday afternoon.

According to the court’s ruling, the defendants have “no right” to engage in and “cannot be harmed by enjoined from continuing in an illegal enterprise.”

“The Alabama Supreme Court’s opinion makes clear what my office has maintained from the start: these gambling enterprises are not only patently illegal under Alabama law, but also a menace to public health, morals, safety, and welfare,” said Attorney General Steve Marshall. “Today’s decision will forbid the Southern Star, White Hall, and Victoryland casinos from offering their slot-machine gambling to the public.”

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Lowndes County leaders are reacting after the Alabama Supreme Court dealt a blow to some gambling operations in their community on Friday.

Justices ordered the Lowndes County Circuit Court to issue, within 30 days, a permanent injunction against defendants from offering “electronic bingo” machines at any facility, from receiving money from the machines, from transporting or adding more machines, and “from receiving, utilizing, or providing bingo licenses or permits to play “electronic bingo” in their respective county.”

Justices issued a similar order to the Macon County Circuit Court, however that order requires the lower court to issue a temporary injunction. Macon County must then consider the court’s ruling on the Lowndes County permanent injunction when determining whether to grant its own permanent injunction.

The attorney general says he expects for there to be a motion filed for a rehearing in Macon County “in a very short period of time” and says he believes that ”the trial judges, after having had an opportunity to read this order, will understand that they need to act very consistently with what the court’s done, but also to be able to act swiftly.”

The state’s high court noted in its order that “because White Hall has waived all arguments at issue in its cross-appeal relating to the dismissal of its counterclaims, that portion of the Lowndes Circuit Court’s order is hereby affirmed,” meaning Lowndes County has already complied with the order.

The Alabama attorney general’s office has long since declared electronic bingo in Alabama as illegal gambling, going as far as using hundreds of thousands of dollars to prosecute it. In 2016, the governor’s office disbanded a task force on illegal gambling, transferring the responsibilities to the AG’s office. Executive Order No. 13 deemed local jurisdictions and law enforcement as being those charged with interpreting and applying Alabama law over gaming or gambling in their respective county.

Marshall said the state’s high court unanimously agreed with his office that the casinos “are illegal gambling enterprises,” and called electronic bingo “a misnomer used by the casinos to mean “video-slot-machine gambling” at their respective facilities.”

While Friday’s order specifically addresses only Macon and Lowndes counties, it could ultimately have a statewide impact on other, non-Native American enterprises. The state’s Native American facilities are federally protected.

“In the five years since I filed lawsuits to cease illegal gambling in five different counties across the state, I have prevailed in court against one deep-pocketed gambling enterprise after another:,” Marshall added in a statement, “in 2017, against the River City casino in Morgan County; in 2018, against the Center Stage casino in Houston County; and, today, against the Southern Star and White Hall casinos in Lowndes County and the Victoryland casino in Macon County,.

The order marks the AG’s office’s second gambling-related victory in the last several months. In June, the state’s highest court ruled in the AG’s favor when it ordered Greenetrack to pay $76 million in unpaid taxes and interest owed to the Alabama Department of Revenue for profits it made from what the state contends is illegal gaming. A separate case seeking to end Greenetrack’s “illegal gambling” is still working its way through the court system.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been updated to reflect that the Alabama Supreme Court’s order to the Macon County Circuit Court is for a temporary injunction, not a permanent injunction.

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