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700 gambling machines seized in Greene Countycomment (0)

June 9, 2011

By Sondra Washington

Greenetrack in Eutaw gambled against Gov. Robert Bentley and Attorney General Luther Strange and lost when the casino was raided for the second time in one year. This time, state law enforcement agents seized 700 gambling devices from Greenetrack and another Greene County casino, Frontier Bingo in Knoxville.

After the raid, Strange reassured anyone doubting the cooperation between the attorney general and governor’s offices on the state’s gambling efforts.

“Today’s actions are the culmination of an investigative process over the last several months,” he said in a June 1 press release. “From my first day in office, we have worked hand-in-hand with Governor Bentley and his staff to ensure that illegal gambling laws are enforced consistently across the state.”

Some gambling opponents have doubted this partnership frustrated by the unhindered operation of the Greene County casinos, one of which reopened two months after new state officials entered office in January. At that time, most expected the last nail to be driven into the coffin of slot machine-style gambling around the state — especially after the progress made by former Governor Bob Riley’s Task Force on Illegal Gambling. But, as weeks and months passed, many began to wonder if Bentley would make good on his promise to give Strange the law enforcement power needed to enforce the state’s gambling statutes.

In his press release, Strange addressed any doubts about the legality of the machines being used in the facilities.

“We have worked to try to resolve this matter with minimal controversy,” he said. “We have offered Greenetrack numerous opportunities to resolve this matter by surrendering some of its machines to the state, to allow a court to determine the legality of the machines. We personally met with Greenetrack representatives and the Greene County sheriff numerous times to work out arrangements for this solution.”

Jefferson County District Attorney Brandon Falls has issued similar warnings to casino owners in his jurisdiction. Like Strange, his advice was also unheeded. A few weeks ago, a small casino in Tarrant was raided and two people were reportedly arrested and charged with possession of illegal gambling devices.

Falls said his office has also made Hale and the Birmingham Police Department aware of two other gambling facilities currently operating on Highway 78 in Jefferson County and on Birmingham’s Lakeshore Parkway.

“I think they are trying to test the waters to see if the change in administration will benefit them,” Falls said.

And Sen. Bryan Taylor, R-Prattville, who played a key role in helping Riley’s task force enforce gambling laws, was not able to get his bill passed to change the crime of possessing a gambling device from a misdemeanor to a felony. But, he and eight co-sponsors did get Senate resolution 154 passed asking the Supreme Court to “decide once and for all whether slot machines … may be offered legally in some counties by casinos who claim their machines play legal ‘bingo,’” his press release stated.

“Alabamians want an end to the corruption and the nonsense,” Taylor said. “The casino owners say they want the courts to answer this question, yet at every turn, they file frivolous motions and seek illegal injunctions to block, delay and derail court rulings. … This resolution asks the Supreme Court to answer the question once and for all: In a state where slot machines are illegal, can you circumvent the law by simply calling it bingo? If gambling proponents really want the courts to answer this question, they should welcome this resolution.” Falls said gambling supporters will continue testing the waters without further clarification.

“I think law enforcement was waiting for a ruling that spelled out in unequivocal terms that no electronic devices could be used at all,” he said. “I feel that the [Supreme Court] did that but they didn’t use the wording so there is always going to be an attorney out there ... who is willing to argue that the Supreme Court has allowed them to operate, and therein lies the problems because the courts are not set up to legislate.”

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