Alabama Circuit Judge William Shashy recently ruled the state violated the principle of equal protection under the law by shutting VictoryLand Casino in Macon County while allowing two bingo operations to remain open in Greene County and a third in Houston County. State Attorney General Luther Strange attempted to seize more than 1,600 electronic bingo gaming machines and 0,000 in a raid two years ago at VictoryLand, once Alabama’s largest casino. The ruling did not address the legality of the machines.
Shashy wrote the state seems to be “cherrypicking which facilities should remain open or closed. Allowing unequal treatment places the court in an untenable position. The court cannot condone or perpetuate unequal treatment.” He also noted tribal casinos operate in Alabama. Strange had no immediate comment, however, he may appeal the ruling.
VictoryLand owner Milton McGregor said, “The decision paves the way for electronic bingo to resume at VictoryLand and for the people of Macon County to once again go back to work and provide for their families.” The complex includes a casino, hotel and greyhound track, located 20 miles east of Montgomery in one of Alabama’s poorest areas.
Last year Shashy presided over a trial regarding the legality of gambling machines at VictoryLand. During the trial the state argued the electronic bingo machines at the casino did not meet the state Supreme Court’s description of bingo, including numbers being announced, players marking cards and a player claiming a win. VictoryLand’s lawyers said a constitutional amendment approved by Macon County voters in 2003 allowed for all types of bingo, including games played on machines.
Meanwhile, the Alabama legislative session ended without a floor vote on Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh’s proposed constitutional amendment to let voters decide if they want a lottery and casinos. Governor Wes Bentley has stated that gambling legislation would not be part of his proposals for a special session, which will be held in August to finalize the state budget and try to close its $200 million gap. Bentley has backed $541 million in tax increases although legislators showed little enthusiasm for that.
At the same time, former Auburn University football coach Pat Dye and Charles McCrary, retired chief executive officer of Alabama Power, said they have formed the Alabama Jobs Foundation which intends to lobby lawmakers and encourage the public to pass Marsh’s constitutional amendment to expand gaming. The group hopes to present the amendment to voters this year, but it would first have to be approved by lawmakers.
Dye said gambling would provide a long-term solution to the state’s budget problems and would generate 11,000 jobs and $400 million in new state revenue. “The pluses outweigh the minuses,” he stated, adding he and McCrary have no financial stake in the passage of the amendment. McCrary noted, “Now those jobs may not be important to a lot of people. But I guarantee you, they’re important to the people who don’t have a job.” He added the proposed gambling amendment shows respect for Alabama’s citizens by letting them decide if gambling should be expanded. “If they don’t see the economic opportunity for the state, so be it,” he said.
Bentley’s spokeswoman Jennifer Ardis said even if the gambling amendment was approved by lawmakers and the governor, it most likely would not be put before voters until November at the earliest. “The crisis begins October 1 and obviously there is no way gambling solves the problem for October 1,” Ardis said.
House Speaker Mike Hubbard said he was not surprised that expanded gambling measures most likely would not come up during the legislature’s special session. “I’ve not changed my stance. I’ve always been anti-gambling. I don’t think that is a good way for us to run the state and depend on gambling revenue. My first vote in the legislature when I was elected was against the lottery. I don’t think that it’s a good thing period,” Hubbard said.
However, Hubbard has unenthusiastically supported the Poarch Band of Creek Indians’ proposal of a $250 million loan to cover the state’s budget shortfall in exchange for exclusive gaming rights in the state.
The Poarch Creeks have termed the deal a compact, which would allow them to offer Class III gaming at their casinos. Hubbard said he prefers an “intergovernmental agreement” instead, which would enable the state to collect taxes from Poarch Creek casinos without allowing them to offer Class III gaming. “There’s also a sentiment that if the Indians are here, and we can’t do anything to stop them, then it’s not fair for them to not pay anything. I just think inherently people think that is unfair. The fact of the matter is they’re making lots of money and they’re paying zero taxes,” Hubbard noted.