Gov. Riley's full remarks: Denying AG control of Task Force

I am deeply disappointed by the Attorney General's continuing course of conduct pertaining to the enforcement of Alabama's criminal laws against slot machines.

Over the last two weeks, I had conversations with the Attorney General seeking to work out an agreement on how those laws should be enforced.  I suggested that we offer the casinos the opportunity to have the legality of their machines decided by a procedure where the casinos would close, they would allow the machines to be seized in place, and then we would have expedited forfeiture actions.  My attorneys told me that we could have had those cases to the Alabama Supreme Court in six weeks or less.  However, the Attorney General never bothered to call me and say that he would not agree to my approach. Instead, he called his press conference and that's how I found out his answer.

When he met with me, the Attorney General told me that he preferred to bring civil declaratory judgment actions.  I told him that would not work for two reasons.  First, since January of this year, the Alabama Supreme Court has made clear in three separate rulings that there is no authority for trial courts to hear the declaratory judgment actions that the Attorney General wants to file.  The Supreme Court has said that they are not allowed.  The Attorney General told me that his lawyers agreed that the Supreme Court had forbidden that type of case. 

Second, the Attorney General's proposal would allow the illegal casinos to stay open for months and months as the declaratory judgment cases worked their way through the courts.  Now, if a drug dealer or child molester or car thief came to us and said that law enforcement could not arrest them until they had litigated in court whether their conduct was illegal, we would all laugh them out of the room.  All criminals subject themselves to immediate arrest for criminal activity.  Yet, the Attorney General wants to treat people engaged in criminal illegal gambling differently from other criminals.  I cannot understand that.  A crime is a crime.

We've already seen an expansion of gambling since the Attorney General's announcement yesterday.  The casino bosses quickly accepted the Attorney General's invitation to reopen.  Within a few hours of his announcement yesterday, two closed casinos announced they would reopen because they have his promise of protection.  If he had not taken his action yesterday, those illegal casinos would have remained closed – and he knows it.

The Attorney General made a stunning statement yesterday.  He said that even though he claims to be adamantly opposed to illegal gambling, he wants the Department of Public Safety and the ABC Board to agree to a moratorium on enforcing Alabama's criminal laws against gambling.  In other words, he wants law enforcement to tell criminals, that they can commit their crimes, and that law enforcement will do nothing about it.  The Attorney General wants law enforcement professionals to violate their oaths to ensure that the law is followed.  If law enforcement were to make such a pledge, we would see illegal slot-machine parlors opening up on every corner. 

The Attorney General has no authority to tell the Task Force on Illegal Gambling what to do.  I created the Task Force as a working group of executive branch agencies and officials to ensure that the laws against slot machines are enforced.  All of my actions and appointments have been in conformity with the constitutional and statutory authority of the Governor.

The Attorney General's statements yesterday amount to a power grab, and although I did not ask for any conflict, he has created one.  I will vigorously defend the authority of the office of Governor, and I suspect that these issues will ultimately be decided by the Alabama Supreme Court.  As I have done every step of the way in this fight against illegal gambling, I will accept the Supreme Court's determination.

The Attorney General has admitted that he has no authority to tell DPS and ABC agents what to do.  He also has no authority to remove the Task Force Commander that I appointed.

The Attorney General has asked Mr. Tyson to hand over all the evidence gathered in the criminal investigation of illegal casinos in five counties.  Mr. Tyson has responded to the Attorney General that he does not have that evidence in his possession.  It belongs to DPS and ABC.

If we turn the evidence over to the Attorney General, we might as well turn it over to the casino bosses.  That evidence was part of a criminal investigation, but the Attorney General has made clear that he has no intention of filing criminal charges.  Instead, he wants to file civil cases.  In civil cases, the other side gets to see every document you have.  So, if we give that information to the Attorney General, he will have to give it to the casino bosses.  That will destroy the criminal investigation and could endanger our undercover law enforcement officers, and we are not going to do that.

Today, the Attorney General issued a press release saying that casinos will reopen if we do not hand over the evidence.  That is ridiculous.  I told the Attorney General last week that he should get in the car and ride down and take a look at these slot machines himself.  When he gets there, he will figure out in about 5 minutes that the machines cannot meet the Supreme Court's requirements for legal bingo.  He will see that a player could turn his back to the machine, hit a button three times, and complete a game in about 10 seconds.  That's not bingo, and that certainly does not satisfy the Supreme Court's requirements

Troy King has said that he has investigators who can go out and look into whether these casinos are operating illegally.  If he had used those investigators when he should have, I never would have had to create the Task Force in the first place.  He can rest assured that it will not take his investigators long to figure out what is obvious – this is not bingo and these are illegal slot machines.

The Task Force will continue its work.  The law enforcement officers swore to uphold the law, and they will do that.  Although we will not comment on the timing or details of any future operation, no one who is engaging in illegal gambling in this State should feel like the Attorney General has given them a free pass.  The law will be enforced uniformly across the State.

The actions of the Attorney General have already had the effect of increasing, not decreasing illegal gambling in the State.  At least two casinos have announced that they will reopen, and more are sure to follow.  This should be alarming to everyone who believes that laws matter.

Although the Attorney General says that he is against gambling in Alabama, he was presented in 2004 with a letter from the federal government that stated that there was illegal gambling taking place in Alabama.  If the Attorney General had done his job then, we never would have had this explosion of slot machines that we now have to deal with.  Instead of asking for help then from state law enforcement officers to get rid of the illegal slot machines, the Attorney General kept that letter from me and the Department of Public Safety and instead allowed the illegal gambling to continue.

Although the Attorney General said yesterday that he will advocate my position in his court cases, I'm somewhat skeptical that will really happen.  The Houston County bingo amendment says that no one can be paid to operate the games, but the Attorney General issued an opinion saying that the casino operators can pay people to run the games.  Am I to believe that the Attorney General is now going to argue that he got that wrong?  He has also issued numerous other statements that conflict with my views, and I do not believe that he really intends to admit that he has been wrong all along.

As I said at the beginning, I am very disappointed that the Attorney General persists in a course of conduct that allows criminal activity to occur with impunity.  He has admitted that he has been the guest of honor at parties thrown by casino bosses, and he previously told me that he would have no involvement in litigation over the legality of the casinos due to an apparent conflict of interest.  I don't know why he has changed his mind on that, and I think he had it right the first time.  His eleventh-hour effort to stop the Task Force activity does not inspire confidence.

Finally, let me say that I am proud of what the Task Force has accomplished.  We have won every issue that we have presented to the Alabama Supreme Court.  Solely as a result of the Task Force efforts, we have established the definitive test on what constitutes legal bingo, a test that none of these slot machines can meet.  That test overrode and replaced the incorrect test that the Attorney General had set out.  The gambling bosses know that their days are numbered as a result of our efforts, and that is why the Attorney General's action yesterday is so disappointing.