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Machines, cash seized at VictoryLand; lawsuit filed to stop Poarch Band casinoscomment (0)

February 28, 2013

By Julie Payne

Machines, cash seized at VictoryLand; lawsuit filed to stop Poarch Band casinos

Illegal gambling efforts in the state were hit hard by law enforcement and the Alabama Supreme Court in late February.

Milton McGregor’s VictoryLand casino in Macon County was raided by Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange’s office and the Alabama Department of Public Safety on Feb. 19. The Poarch Band of Creek Indians also learned of a lawsuit filed against them by Strange that day. And Center Stage Alabama in Houston County didn’t receive the news they wanted from the state Supreme Court Feb. 22.

The raid on VictoryLand resulted in the seizure of several hundred gambling machines and an undisclosed amount of cash. The items will be held as evidence and will be subject to a forfeiture procedure in the Circuit Court of Macon County, according to a news release from Strange’s office. 

“Today’s actions are the culmination of an investigative process over the last several months,” Strange said in the news release.

Strange also noted that his office “worked to try to resolve this matter with minimal controversy,” he said. “Unfortunately, the VictoryLand casino was operating 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.”

VictoryLand lawyer Joe Espy said in an al.com news report that VictoryLand tried to stop the Feb. 19 raid, but Macon County Circuit Court Judge Tom Young set a hearing for March 19. 

“No court and no expert have ever ruled that the machines used at VictoryLand are illegal gaming devices,” Espy said in the al.com report.

As far as the Poarch Band is concerned, Strange filed a lawsuit in the Circuit Court of Elmore County to stop the operation of slot machines at their casinos in the state. 

He said other efforts to stop the Poarch Band’s gambling activities have failed and state officers cannot seize gambling devices on Indian land.

“Unlawful gambling is a statewide problem, and I have worked with local authorities to enforce Alabama law consistently and fairly throughout the state,” Strange said in a news release. “I have sent two letters to the National Indian Gaming Commission, asking them to stop the Poarch Band’s unlawful gambling, but the Commission has refused to do anything about it. The Commission’s inaction has left me with no choice but to file this lawsuit.”

Joe Godfrey, executive director of Alabama Citizens Action Program (ALCAP), noted ALCAP is pleased that Strange is “upholding the laws of Alabama concerning illegal gambling operations. The closing of VictoryLand and the filing of a lawsuit that we hope, if upheld, will close the illegal casinos on tribal lands is good news for the citizens of Alabama.” 

“These gambling operations are predatory in nature, preying on the people who can least afford to gamble away their money with false promises of winning big. The only real winners are the casino owners,” Godfrey added.

In Houston County, Center Stage (formerly owned by Ronnie Gilley and known as Country Crossing) officials received news Feb. 22 that the Alabama Supreme Court had denied their second request to have the trial judge removed from their case.

In July 2012, law enforcement agents served a search warrant at the newly named Center Stage after it reopened with new machines that state law enforcement agents determined were illegal, according to a news release from Strange’s office. 

After the raid, Center Stage reopened with games it contends do not play “electronic bingo.”

The Dothan Eagle reported Feb. 20 that officials with the Houston Economic Development Association (HEDA) — the entity that operates bingo at Center Stage — said they are not worried about a new raid at Center Stage.

In the Dothan Eagle report, Ernie Hornsby, an attorney representing HEDA, said games at Center Stage are different than those seized from VictoryLand and different from the Center Stage machines seized last July. 

HEDA has claimed the Center Stage machines were seized illegally last July, and facility officials had filed an application for a rehearing before the Alabama Supreme Court, according to the Dothan Eagle.

When the Alabama Supreme Court denied Center Stage’s request to have the trial judge removed from the case, “the casino immediately filed another motion asking the Supreme Court to reconsider the decision,” Deputy Attorney General Sonny Reagan said Feb. 22.

 “The Supreme Court denied the second and final request from the casino on Feb. 22,” Reagan said. “The attorney general’s office has opposed the casino’s delaying tactics at every turn and will now prepare for a trial in Houston County after this most recent Supreme Court decision that has cleared the way for the judge to proceed.”

Also in 2012, Strange’s office obtained a final judgment for the State of Alabama in a so-called “electronic bingo” case arising out of the execution of a search warrant at White Hall Entertainment Center. 

In March 2009, pursuant to a warrant, the State seized more than 100 so-called “electronic bingo” machines from White Hall Entertainment Center and more than half a million dollars in cash proceeds from illegal gambling at the casino, according to a news release from Strange’s office about the case. 

In 2012, Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Robert Vance declared the seized money forfeited to the State’s General Fund. On Nov. 26, Vance declared that the illegal gambling devices also be forfeited to the State. 

Meanwhile in Greene County — where gambling has been big business — sources in the area tell The Alabama Baptist that Greenetrack remains in operation on some level.

According to an al.com news report, the center resumed operating bingo machines in August 2011 after a raid by the attorney general’s office and state police. 

The attorney general “continues to litigate four separate cases involving illegal gambling in Greene County,” Reagan said. The attorney general’s office is “pursuing the recovery of $75 million in unpaid taxes from Greenetrack” and “continues to litigate two cases against the Greenetrack casino where slot machines and cash were seized on two occasions; one in 2010 and the other in 2011.” 

Litigation also continues against another Greene County casino, Frontier Bingo, after agents seized nearly 300 slot machines there in 2011, Reagan said, adding the Greenetrack and Frontier Bingo cases from 2011 are pending in the Alabama Supreme Court. 

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