SHORTER, AL (WSFA) - A search warrant was served Tuesday at the VictoryLand casino in Shorter, Ala. by law enforcement agents from the Alabama Attorney General's Office and the Alabama Department of Public Safety.
According to the AG's office the law enforcement action was taken in response to illegal gambling operations. "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."
Joe Espy, III, who represents Victoryland and its president, Milton McGregor, released a statement saying "We know what motivates them. The question now is who will have the courage to stop them." Espy promised a fight, saying regardless of one's stance on legal gaming, "this is a sad day for Alabama."
INDIAN CASINO LAWSUIT
In what appears to be a related event, Attorney General Strange also filed a lawsuit in an Elmore County circuit court Tuesday morning to stop the operation of slot machines at casinos owned by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.
Governor Bentley said he learned of the Creek Indian lawsuit Tuesday and said he agrees with the attorney general's determination that Native Americans cannot operate gaming machines is others cannot. Espy called the lawsuit a "smokescreen" and a waste of taxpayer money.
[DOCUMENT: Victoryland Search Warrant (.pdf)]
JUDGE RELUCTANTLY SIGNS WARRANT
The Victoryland search warrant was signed by Alabama Circuit Court Judge Tom Young and was dated on February 16, 2013. In signing the warrant, Judge Young wrote that while he did not believe there was sufficient probable cause for filing the warrant in this hearing, as he says he also ruled a month ago, he had no choice but to sign it after receiving a writ of mandamus from the Alabama Supreme Court. The Supreme Court effectively ordered the lower court to sign the warrant.
"This Court will, as always, follow the mandates of the Supreme Court," Judge Young wrote,
"although, it does so with the greatest judicial reluctance."
VICTORYLAND VS. STATE
This is not the first time Victoryland has been the target of a state raid. In January 2010, Milton McGregor thwarted a raid on his property after obtaining a restraining order.
In August 2010, Victoryland voluntarily surrendered its liquor license and closed its doors to prevent a raid during the administration of former Governor Bob Riley, who effectively managed to close every major non-Indian casino in the state through his Task Force on Illegal Gambling.
Gambling machine manufacturers removed their machines from Victoryland in 2011. But the casino reopened in December 2012 with electronic bingo machines that Victoryland said were legal. State law enforcement agents say they're not legal.
Victoryland does not own the machines in question; it only rents them from manufactures. In December, just prior to reopening, it allowed members of the media to view the machines, which gaming industry experts said passed 60 diagnostic tests that proved it was in compliance with the 2003 Macon County amendment that allowed such machines. Even Macon County Sheriff David Warren gave the machines a 'green light'.
All the tests did nothing to sway the attorney general's office regarding their legality.
"My office worked to try to resolve this matter with minimal controversy," said Attorney General Strange. "Unfortunately, the VictoryLand casino was operating 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 culminated in the seizure of several hundred gambling machines and an undisclosed amount of cash from VictoryLand. The machines, along with the seized money, will be held as evidence and will be subject to a forfeiture procedure in the Circuit Court of Macon County. At least 7 large moving trucks were brought to the property to remove the machines.
Residents in rural, poor Macon County have come to expect the fight between the state and the county's largest employer. When asked, most had the same reaction as Daphne Pollard. "Here we go again," she said. "I don't even know what to say," she sighed.
Pollard, a native Shorter resident, doesn't think her community can catch a break. She's always seen Victoryland as "a way of life." With many of her own family and friends as longtime Victoryland employees, Pollard was even thinking about opening her own business nearby to cater to the workers. "My sister and I, we were actually intending on bringing a daycare here for the workers that worked overnight."
Mayor Willie Mae Powell, realizing the tug-of-war between the State and Victoryland creates inconsistencies, is looking for other ways to keep the city going financially. She says she's looking for other businesses to come into the town as a way of diversifying the economy.
Powell says she spoke with Milton McGregor before Victoryland reopened and says he told her he felt he was in a "good place" about reopening.
The exact number of employees Victoryland employed from December to the current date is not immediately known, but Espy said there were hundreds who will be affected.
WSFA 12 News broke this story on Twitter after receiving a call from a Victoryland employee at around 8:30 a.m. who said that when she showed up for work this morning the doors to the facility were locked and that state troopers had ..."swarmed the front door."