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Court rules video gambling illegal in Alabamacomment (0)

January 2, 2003

By Sue Ann Miller

Gambling issues once again claimed the spotlight in Alabama in 2002 with the only constant being consistent confusion over the legality of adult gaming devices.

And finally at the conclusion of a helter-skelter year regarding video gambling in Alabama, a landmark decisision was made Dec. 13.

A long-awaited answer by an Alabama state appeals court ruled that the much-debated Chuck E. Cheese law was not intended for chance related to adult video games that pay out prizes in the form of cash. 

The landmark decision will ultimately affect other cases still pending in courts throughout the state. Predictions are that a ruling will have to come from the state’s highest court before statewide banning will go into affect.

Since 1996 the state has seen a continual rise of adult video gambling arcades that at one point in 2001 reached an estimated 70,000 in number.

Throughout 2002 newspaper headlines blared the outcomes of court decisions regarding the legality of adult video gambling devices in Alabama. Continuing the precedent of the last four years, the infamous Chuck E. Cheese law was at the eye of the storm of controversy. The confusion stems from the interpretation of the  law that states that along with children’s video games, adult video gaming devices are legal if skill is required for a successful play of the game.

Opponents, who perceive the devices to be video gambling machines, say that a win is dictated strictly by chance, not skill, and thus constitutes gambling, which is illegal in Alabama.

The roller-coaster ride of adult gaming device legitimacy cost taxpayers millions of dollars in 2002 because of numerous lawsuits filed against district attorneys and sheriffs who closed down arcades in their counties.

Mixed messages regarding the legality of the gambling devices were in abundance and arcade owners rushed their arguments before every level of courts available to them in hopes of stalling their business’s closings.

This conflict was reflected in the on-again off-again legality message that arcade operators received from Jefferson County law and court officials. At one point, Jefferson County Sheriff Jim Woodward banned the machines and then, following an opinion by State Attorney General Bill Pryor, lifted the ban and then reinstated it following an opinion from a Birmingham circuit court judge.

Evidence of the inconsistency of the law was found in a poll taken of every district attorney’s office by The Alabama Baptist in July 2002. The poll revealed 23 counties were allowing the gambling machines to operate, 42 were not allowing them to operate and Jefferson County was allowing the machines to operate within unincorporated areas and banning them within the city limits of Birmingham.

As a result of some of the state’s counties banning the adult gambling devices, other counties that had not instituted a ban witnessed an influx of new arcades. Such was the case with St. Clair County, which experienced a boom of new business within a few months of its sister counties shutting down arcades.

Due to undercover investigation by The Alabama Baptist, which revealed cash payouts being made at a recently opened arcade in Pell City, St. Clair authorities raided the business and subsequently closed all arcades in the county.

In addition to the Chuck E. Cheese saga in the state another form of gambling has crept into the picture during the last year. With as little fanfare as possible, the Poarch Creek Indians are continuing their determined efforts to bring casino gambling into Alabama

According to Tribal Chairman Eddie Tullis, the Poarch Creek Indians’ gaming board is about to take the next step in a proposal to work with Harrah’s Entertainment to build a $100 million gaming complex in Wetumpka.

The tribe owns land in Etowah County, and 50 acres of it has been allotted for the construction of a multi-level gaming center that would house 1,000 high-stakes video gaming machines. This would include progressive jackpots as high as $60,000.

Atmore’s Poarch Creek Indians have opened two bingo halls in Montgomery and Elmore counties with plans to open a third one in the coming year.

They are operating their businesses on land they purchased in these counties.

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