The Alabama Supreme Court on Thursday ruled against VictoryLand in a forfeiture case, overturning a lower court’s ruling issued last year in finding that the State of Alabama acted within the law in conducting a raid on the casino’s electronic bingo hall.
The decision, which allows the state to destroy more than 1,200 electronic bingo machines it confiscated from VictoryLand and keep more than $200,000 cash, was unanimous and the written ruling included particularly forceful language.
“(Thursday’s) decision is the latest, and hopefully the last, chapter in the more than six years’ worth of attempts to defy the Alabama Constitution’s ban on ‘lotteries,’” the Court stated in its opinion. “It is the latest, and hopefully the last, chapter in the ongoing saga of attempts to defy the clear and repeated holdings of this Court beginning in 2009 that electronic machines like those at issue here are not the ‘bingo’ referenced in local bingo amendments.
“All that is left is for the law of this State to be enforced.”
Specifically, the Court found that Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge William Shashy – who was appointed by the state’s high court to hear the case – erred in applying an equal protection ruling in the case. Despite attorneys for VictoryLand not arguing the point of unfair treatment under the law, Shashy made it the cornerstone of his ruling, saying he felt the state had singled VictoryLand out for selective prosecution.
The Supreme Court also disagreed with Shashy’s assessment that voters in Macon County intended to approve electronic bingo when they passed a bingo amendment in 2003. In order to make that determination, the Court, while applying a definition for the term “bingo” that it crafted seven years ago by surmising legislative intent, essentially ruled that attempting to determine both legislative and voter intent in a constitutional amendment was all but impossible and improper.
It ruled that reports from legislative committees and floor arguments was “suspect in understanding legislative intent.” Likewise, demonstrating the debate among voters by use of newspaper ads and fliers announcing town halls – both of which in this case used the phrase “casino-style gaming” – was “less helpful in determining the collective will of thousands of voters.”
After praising the Supreme Court’s ruling in a statement, Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange said, “I consider the work of my office in bringing the issue of electronic gambling to the courts for final judgement to now be complete. It is now up to the Governor, ALEA, and local authorities to ensure that the law is properly enforced.
“I am proud of the work of the many local law enforcement jurisdictions who have performed their duty to enforce our laws and I am equally proud of my legal team in bringing this case and the question of electronic bingo to a successful conclusion.”
Attorneys for VictoryLand and owner Milton McGregor were not immediately available.
Despite Thursday’s ruling, the issue of electronic bingo is far from being a settled one. There is currently a bill working its way through the legislature that would clarify that voters in Macon and Greene counties intended to vote for electronic bingo when they each passed bingo amendments in 2003.
Late last year, Gov. Robert Bentley also removed the power to police gaming within the state from the AG’s office and turned it over to local sheriffs. Sheriffs in Macon and Greene counties have stated emphatically that they believe the games being played at casinos in their counties are covered by the constitutional amendments their citizens passed.