Gov. Bob Riley asks Alabama Supreme Court to declare all electronic bingo illegal

Riley: Machines are illegal

KIM CHANDLER

Birmingham News staff writer

MONTGOMERY – Gov. Bob Riley said Thursday he has urged the Alabama Supreme Court to rule that the slots look-alike game of electronic bingo is illegal across the state.

Riley and St. Clair District Attorney Richard Minor filed a joint brief with the court earlier this month asking the court to issue a ruling in a St. Clair County bingo case that declares all of the machines illegal.

The Alabama Supreme Court in June issued a 6-3 order delaying enforcement of a St. Clair judge’s ruling that allowed the games to be installed at the American Legion Hall in Ashville. Riley urged the court to use the opportunity to issue a broader ruling on the machines.

“Ultimately, only this court can put a statewide end to the cancer of slot machines masquerading as `electronic bingo,’” Minor and lawyers for the governor wrote. “The clearest way for the court to do so is to rule, as the federal court did, that these machines are prohibited slot machines under the Alabama Code.”

Riley and Minor wrote that it is urgent for the Supreme Court to act.

“Slot machines are illegal in every county of this state – period. But because Alabama’s law against slot machines is not being uniformly enforced, they are popping up in communities throughout the state,” Riley said in a statement issued Thursday.

Ashville Mayor Robert L. McKay said he hoped the court would declare the machines legal, or at least allow Ashville to have electronic bingo while the issue is decided in court.

“I want a ruling. I want them to hear the case,” McKay said.

McKay said he was frustrated that the Ashville operation was shut down while other electronic bingo operations across the state thrive.

“They came up here when we had a campfire, when the whole woods are on fire. … The 40 bingo halls in Walker County is a prime example,” McKay said.

Eighteen constitutional amendments and other laws approved over the years allow the operation of charity bingo in several locations across the state. The thousands of electronic bingo machines being played look nearly identical to slot machines played at Las Vegas, Biloxi and other gambling meccas.

Riley argues the machines are, in fact, illegal slot machines. Bingo operators contend the machines are legal, saying they are wired for players to play rapid-fire games of bingo against each other.

Jay Walker, a spokesman for Country Crossing, a Wiregrass country music-themed development that proposes to include electronic bingo, said the issue before the Supreme Court is whether St. Clair County bingo was operating within the bounds of the local constitutional amendment. The legality of electronic bingo is not on trial, Walker said.

Riley press secretary Todd Stacy said the issue is squarely before the Supreme Court.

“The Supreme Court is going to have the opportunity to decide once and for all whether there is a loophole that allows organized gambling to operate slot machines under the guise of bingo,” Stacy said.

E-mail: kchandler@bhamnews.com

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