Attorney generalís office raids Center Stage Alabama, seizes nearly 700 gambling machines, devicescomment (0)
August 9, 2012
By Sondra Wahington
Whether lured by dreams of fast money or doubts about law enforcement threats, several Alabama slot machine-style gambling facility owners have re-opened their doors over the past year despite previous raids, court decisions and lack of legislative support. But Attorney General Luther Strange is making good on his promise to shut down any illegal gambling establishments in the state.
On July 25 agents from Strange’s office served a search warrant and seized nearly 700 gambling machines and devices and almost $300,000 from the so-called “electronic bingo” hall at Center Stage Alabama, which was formerly known as Country Crossing, in Houston County.
In a press release Strange said the raid was “the culmination of an investigative process over the last several months.”
“My office, along with Houston County District Attorney Doug Valeska, worked to try to resolve this matter with minimal controversy,” Strange noted. “We offered Center Stage an opportunity to resolve this matter by surrendering its machines to the state and allowing a court to determine the legality of the machines. After Center Stage simply refused to compromise or discuss this matter in good faith, we sent the casino a written order to cease and desist its illegal operations. Unfortunately the casino continued to operate 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.”
Assistant Attorney General Sonny Reagan later said, “The items seized at Center Stage by law enforcement will now be the subject of litigation in Houston County Circuit Court. The state will seek the destruction of all illegal gambling machines and ask the court to transfer all seized monies to the general fund in accordance with state law. Those operating illegal casinos in open defiance of the law should be aware that this office will continue to enforce the rule of law throughout the State of Alabama.”
Center Stage was developed by Ronnie Gilley, who is currently preparing to serve his nearly seven-year prison sentence for a legislative vote-buying scheme and has recently requested to delay reporting to federal prison for “medical reasons and to deal with financial issues at BamaJam Farms,” according to the Dothan Eagle. For the past several years Gilley has promoted the multiple-day music festival held in Enterprise, which, according to BamaJam2012.com, features “today’s most popular acts from dual headline stages set at the pristine 1,600-acre BamaJam Farms, ‘Where God and Country Coincide.’” The site called the most recent BamaJam held June 14–16 featuring Tim McGraw, Zac Brown Band, Kid Rock, Alan Jackson, Eric Church, Sheryl Crow and Jamey Johnson “a huge success.”
In the future, Strange hopes Alabama legislators will “put an end to” illegal gambling activity “by simply increasing the penalty for the existing crime of operating an illegal slot machine from a misdemeanor to a felony.”
He noted, “Until then, these individuals stand to make millions of dollars in illegal gambling profits while risking only a slap-on-the-wrist misdemeanor charge, and law enforcement will continue to be forced to expend valuable resources to deal with the growing problem.”
For the past two legislative sessions, Sen. Bryan Taylor, R-Prattville, has sponsored bills to increase the penalty for possessing gambling devices from a misdemeanor to a felony, but senators did not pass the bill.
“The threat here is not merely gambling,” Taylor told The Alabama Baptist. “It’s the organized crime, corruption and economic decay that come with it. It’s not about the players. It’s not about the people who would frequent these establishments. It’s about the people who own them and the tremendous harm they are doing our families. Everybody knows that running a for-profit casino is illegal in the state of Alabama but as long as it’s a misdemeanor, the penalty is just the cost of doing business.”
On the day of the raid, Center Stage’s Facebook page stated, “We look forward to re-opening and putting the hundreds of our amazing employees back to work.”
According to news reports, Greenetrack in Eutaw and Southern Star, formerly known as Whitehall Entertainment, are both currently operating. Representatives for VictoryLand in Shorter have also promised to re-open their gambling facility.