Houston County ‘bingo’ gambling machines ruled illegal, to be destroyedcomment (0)
October 24, 2013
After more than a year of court proceedings, gambling devices seized from Houston County’s Center Stage have been deemed illegal.
They will be destroyed, and the money seized in the raid will be forfeited to the state’s General Fund.
“The decision from Judge Conaway in Houston County Circuit Court marks a good day for the rule of law,” said Attorney General Luther Strange.
“In a detailed analysis, the court held that machines masquerading as electronic bingo are in fact illegal slot machines,” he said. “Bingo operators have tried to create confusion in the law but this ruling ends the nonsense.
“Only the traditional paper version of the game commonly known as bingo is authorized by the Houston County bingo amendment, and slot machines cannot be used to play bingo,” Strange noted.
Houston County Presiding Circuit Judge Michael Conaway issued the final ruling Oct. 17.
It was the culmination of a joint law enforcement effort by the Alabama Department of Public Safety, Houston County Sheriff Andy Hughes, District Attorney Doug Valeska and Strange.
Law enforcement officers seized 691 illegal slot machines and gambling devices and $288,668.62 in cash proceeds from the Center Stage casino in Houston County in July 2012.
The ruling came after prosecutors from Strange’s office presented evidence in a three-day trial in Houston County.
In the ruling, the Court found the game being played did not meet the six mandatory characteristics of bingo set forth by the Alabama Supreme Court in the 2010 Cornerstone case.
This case requires that the human elements of the traditional game of bingo must be fully preserved in order for a game to potentially qualify as legal bingo.
Strange noted that “the fundamental legal principles which underlie today’s ruling apply not only to Houston County but in all counties subject to local bingo amendments. Since taking office, I have said that I will resolve the debate over electronic bingo in the courts.
“Today another court has spoken and I hope this opinion will serve as a warning for those currently engaged in illegal gambling activities or contemplating operating slot machines in Houston County and throughout the state,” he said.
“Until the Alabama Legislature acts to create an effective deterrent for large scale illegal gambling, individuals will continue to engage in illegal gambling activity and openly defy the law,” Strange added.
“These individuals stand to make thousands of dollars in illegal gambling profits while risking only a slap-on-the-wrist misdemeanor charge,” he said. “Law enforcement will continue to be forced to expend valuable resources to deal with this problem.”
In related news, Etowah County District Attorney Jimmie Harp dismissed the charges of possession of a gambling device against Michelle Garbe in early July.
Garbe was charged with promoting gambling and with possession of a machine at Center Stage in Rainbow City, according to al.com.
In Macon County all qualified judges have recused themselves from hearing a case regarding the seizure of gambling machines from VictoryLand in February, al.com also reported.
And Greene County Circuit Judge Eddie Hardaway Jr. stepped aside from a Greenetrack case at the request of the attorney general.
According to al.com, state court officials will find replacement judges for the cases.