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Decision in Jefferson Co. ‘bingo’ case; jury still out in federal vote-buying re-trialcomment (0)

February 23, 2012

By Sondra Washington

Once again, the Alabama court system has given gambling opponents a clear victory in the fight against so-called electronic bingo machines. This time, Jefferson County Circuit Judge Scott Vowell declared the gambling devices seized in “five consolidated civil forfeiture cases” to be slot machines and said “they do not play ‘bingo.’”

Attorney General Luther Strange called the Feb. 10 ruling a “decisive court victory.”

“The decision from Judge Vowell in Jefferson County Circuit Court marks a good day for the rule of law,” he said in a press release. “The court in a detailed analysis held that machines masquerading as electronic bingo are, in fact, illegal slot machines. Bingo operators have tried to create confusion in the law, but this ruling ends the nonsense. Only the traditional game commonly known as bingo is authorized by the Jefferson County bingo amendment, and slot machines cannot be used to play bingo.”  

Strange added that “the fundamental legal principles” underlying the ruling “apply not only to Jefferson County but [to] all counties subject to local bingo amendments.” He hoped the opinion would “serve as a warning” for current or would-be casino operators statewide.

While Jefferson County has a clear ruling in its gambling cases, it may be some time before the defendants in the federal vote-buying case know their fate. At press time, the re-trial was still in full swing with witnesses taking the stand to testify about their involvement in the plot to pass a massive gambling expansion bill in 2010.

Most recently, Houston County casino developer Ronnie Gilley testified that “electronic bingo machines were a ‘license to print money,’” according to The Birmingham News.

The News also reported that Gilley said he and VictoryLand owner Milton McGregor “discussed the need to work together” to get gambling legislation passed. McGregor is a defendant in the re-trial along with Sen. Harri Anne Smith, I-Slocomb; former Sen. Jim Preuitt, R-Talladega; former Sen. Larry Means, D-Attalla; lobbyist Tom Coker; and Country Crossing spokesman Jay Walker.

In related news, former Bamaco Bingo employees filed a lawsuit last year claiming they received no pay in the weeks leading up to the Fairfield bingo hall shutting down in summer 2011. The former workers then caused the hall to enter into involuntary bankruptcy in November 2011 in order to collect their wages. 

On Feb. 2, a judge ruled in favor of the former employees. The unpaid wages case ruling calls for Bamaco Bingo to pay a group of the former workers $14,000. A neutral trustee will be appointed to find money or other assets to pay off the debt.  

(Neisha Fuson contributed)

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