Center Stage's machines, money seized by AG's office

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Attorney General Luther Strange, Houston County District Attorney Doug Valeska and Houston County Sheriff Andy Hughes announced that a search warrant was served Wednesday at Center Stage Alabama in Houston County by law enforcement agents from the Attorney General's Office, the Department of Public Safety and the Houston County Sheriff's Office.

AG Strange's office said the warrant was executed "in response to an ongoing investigation of illegal gambling operations," according to a statement.

There were no arrests made during Wednesday's operation.

File Report: Controversy surrounds Center Stage grand opening (June 2011)

"Today's actions are the culmination of an investigative process over the last several months," said Attorney General Strange. "From my first day in office, I have worked to ensure that illegal gambling laws are enforced consistently across the state."

The country's largest gambling machine manufacturers removed their machines from Alabama in 2011 following statement's by Strange's office that indicated if they were not removed they would be seized by the state. All machines at the shuttered Country Crossing casino were also taken. The casino, however, changed its name to Center Stage and reopened with new machines that state law enforcement agents determined were illegal.

File Report - Center Stage hit with cease and desist order (July 2011)

"My office, along with Houston County District Attorney Doug Valeska, worked to try to resolve this matter with minimal controversy," said Attorney General Strange. "We offered Center Stage an opportunity to resolve this matter by surrendering its machines to the State and to allow a court to determine the legality of the machines. After Center Stage simply refused to compromise or discuss this matter in good faith, we sent the casino a written order to cease and desist its illegal operations.  Unfortunately, the casino continued to operate in open defiance of the rule of law and we have been left with no alternative but to treat this as we would any other law enforcement matter."

The search warrant resulted in the seizure of several hundred machines and an undisclosed amount of cash from Center Stage, according to the AG's office. The machines and money will be held as evidence in a forfeiture procedure in the Circuit Court of Houston County.

The Attorney General declined an on-camera interview, instead issuing his response to the warrant in a news release. His letter stated, "Going forward, the Legislature can put an end to this type of illegal activity by simply increasing the penalty for the existing crime of operating an illegal slot machine from a misdemeanor to a felony.  Until then, these individuals stand to make millions of dollars in illegal gambling profits while risking only a slap-on-the-wrist misdemeanor charge and law enforcement will continue to be forced to expend valuable resources to deal with the growing problem."

Houston County Sheriff Andy Hughes also issued a statement. Hughes said his main concern was "to make sure that it [search warrant] was carried out in a lawful and proper manner..." Hughes said he would like for the Alabama Legislature "to do everything within their power to resolve the issue of gambling in the State of Alabama in a timely manner."

Ernie Hornsby, a representatives of Center Stage, told the Associated Press that he is suprised and disappointed by the AG's actions. The casino continues to maintain that it's machines are legal.

INFORMATION SOURCE: Attorney General's Office

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