Alabama AG files lawsuits in five counties against electronic bingo operators

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall has filed lawsuits in five counties against electronic bingo casinos using machines he says are illegal slot machines.

Marshall announced lawsuits in Greene, Houston, Lowndes, Macon and Morgan counties. Marshall asked circuit courts in those counties to grant preliminary injunctions to stop what Marshall says are unlawful gambling operations while the lawsuits are pending. He asks the courts to declare the casinos public nuisances and permanently bar them from operating games with the machines.

“It is the responsibility of the Attorney General to ensure that Alabama’s laws are enforced, including those laws that prohibit illegal gambling,” Marshall said in a press release. “Through multiple rulings in recent years, the Alabama Supreme Court has made it abundantly clear that electronic bingo and the use of slot machines are illegal in all Alabama counties.”

Today’s lawsuits rekindle a legal fight over electronic bingo machines, which look and play similar to slot machines. Slot machines are illegal in Alabama.

But casino operators say the games are legal under constitutional amendments approved by voters in their counties. They also note that the games are similar or identical to those played in casinos operated by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians in Atmore, Wetumpka and Montgomery.

The Alabama Supreme Court has ruled that the electronic bingo machines do not fit the traditional definition of bingo and therefore are not legal under the constitutional amendments approving bingo.

VictoryLand casino in Macon County reopened in September 2016 after being shut down for more than three years after a raid by state authorities.

VictoryLand is named as a defendant in the lawsuit filed today, as is Macon County Sheriff Andre Brunson, who is responsible for regulating bingo in the county.

The Greene County lawsuit names five bingo casinos in that county, including Greenetrack, as well as Sheriff Jonathan “Joe” Benison.

Luther Winn Jr., CEO of Greenetrack, a defendant in the Greene County lawsuit, issued a statement this evening:

“While we have not had a chance to review the lawsuit, we will vigorously fight to protect the constitutional amendment that the voters of Greene County ratified which allows these games in Greene County,” Winn said.

Winn said shutting down the casinos would have serious consequences.

“By his own hand, Marshall has now jeopardized the jobs of 115 mothers, fathers, grandmothers, and grandfathers. These are good-paying jobs with insurance and retirement benefits. Don’t let Marshall fool you–this lawsuit signals his willingness to increase Alabama’s unemployment, food stamp, and Medicaid rolls by 115 people in Greene County alone. Marshall’s lawsuit also jeopardizes Greene County E-911 and the fire protection for the entire county, both of whom are completely dependent on bingo revenues.”

Sheriff Benison said it was incorrect to call the facilities in Greene County “casinos.”

“We are approved, legalized electronic bingo facilities,” Benison said. “This is legal because we the citizens of Greene County voted overwhelmingly for Amendment 743 to have such.

“We have been operating and providing jobs and funding for Greene County through this Amendment.  I don’t know about the other counties filed in the lawsuit but as for Greene county, even the shortest closure of our electronic bingo facilities will result in a devastating economic downfall for our county.  We don’t have big industries or factories that our county runs off of; electronic bingo is our livelihood.”

Marshall said his actions today are backed up by multiple court rulings and the findings of ongoing investigations. He called them a comprehensive legal approach developed with his office’s career experts. The civil complaints are intended to close the casinos because “the illegal gambling they offer presents legal nuisances in the state,” Marshall’s press release says.

The Lowndes County lawsuit names two casinos, Southern Star Entertainment and White Hall Entertainment.

The Greene, Lowndes and Macon county lawsuits also name the companies that provide the machines as defendants.

In the Houston County case, Center Stage Bingo and the Houston County Commission are named as defendants.

In the Morgan County case, River City Entertainment in Lacey Springs is the defendant.