The casino at GreeneTrack in Eutaw, Alabama recently held a grand re-opening. The venue had been closed for a month after the Alabama Supreme Court took away its charity bingo status and ordered it to pay $76 million in back taxes.
Owner Luther Winn said, “We are going through the reopening process because the attorney general of the state of Alabama does not recognize the people in Greene County and does not recognize the legislation that we passed in 1986 exempting GreeneTrack from sales tax.”
As a result, Winn said the facility had to convert to offering historical horse racing instead of electronic bingo machines, which are considered illegal slots by the state, versus traditional bingo played on paper cards. Alabama doesn’t allow electronic bingo even if it’s permitted by the county in which it operates. The legality of HHR games has yet to be determined.
Just a few weeks ago, the state Supreme Court ruled three other casinos in Lowndes and Macon County were illegal gambling halls, not legal bingo halls. The high court sent the case back to the lower court and ordered the judges to tell the casinos to close within 60 days. In addition, state Attorney General Steve Marshall said he was pursuing a separate court action to close GreeneTrack permanently.
Winn said, “We’re reopening with a product proven to be the top-growing market in the United States with historical horse racing. We’ll have really nice games that are very competitive and fun to play. Reopening means that Greene County, I’m hoping, can take a deep breath, and people can depend on GreeneTrack again for employment for years to come.” Winn said the venue employs 80 people.
Under Alabama’s 1901 constitution, games of chance are against the law. However, several counties, including Greene, Macon, Jefferson and Mobile, passed local constitutional amendments allowing dog and horse racing. This allowed GreeneTrack to open as a dog racetrack where guests could wager on live races. Amendments allowing charity bingo followed and over time, the tracks installed electronic bingo machines, which state officials permitted at the time.
Under the 1986 Indian Gaming Act, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, the only federally recognized Indian tribe in the state, was granted permission from the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs to develop their own electronic bingo halls in Atmore and Wetumpka.
Then-Attorney General Troy King issued an opinion affirming electronic bingo was legal under the charity bingo amendments to the Alabama constitution. Then-Governor Bob Riley appointed Mobile County District Attorney John Tyson, a political rival of King’s, to head a gambling task force which seized electronic gambling machines. The Alabama Supreme Court ruled for Tyson, declaring bingo cannot be played on a machine. Then, Robert Bentley became governor and ended Riley’s gambling task force and issued an executive order that prohibited state troopers from enforcing the law against gambling.
Governor Kay Ivey has maintained Bentley’s gambling policies. In 2020, Ivey’s gambling task force issued a report stating lawmakers should pass legislation allowing the current casinos to operate legally, as well as authorize a state lottery. State Senators Greg Albritton and Del Marsh both introduced such legislation, which passed the state senate in 2021 and 2022 but not the House. Ivey stated her greatest regret from her first term was that the legislature did not pass gambling legislation.