An undisclosed amount of cash and more than 1,000 illegal bingo machines recently were seized in a raid on four casinos in Greene County, Alabama.
State Attorney General Luther Strange said agents from his office and state troopers from the Alabama Department of Public Safety served warrants at Greenetrack and Greene Charity in Eutaw and at Frontier Bingo and River’s Edge in Knoxville.
Strange said, “Today’s actions are the culmination of an investigative process over the last several months. From my first day in office, I have worked to ensure that illegal gambling laws are enforced consistently across the state. These casinos were operating in open defiance of the rule of law and we have been left with no alternative but to treat this as we would any other law enforcement matter.”
More than 700 illegal bingo machines were seized at Greenetrack and Frontier Bingo in June 2011.
Also in Alabama, Amanda Harrison has asked the state Supreme Court to overturn a ruling that the Poarch Band of Creek Indians has legal immunity. Harrison had sued the tribe last May over her son’s death in a drunk-driving accident last year. According to the lawsuit, Benjamin Harrison was a passenger in a vehicle driven by a man who had been served drinks at the Wind Creek Casino in Atmore after he was visibly intoxicated. Shortly after leaving the casino, the driver crashed while being chased by Poarch Band police, and Benjamin Harrison died from his injuries.
Harrison sued the tribe under the state’s Dram Shop Act. The lawsuit said employees at the Wind Creek Casino served a patron alcohol despite his being visibly intoxicated.
In October, an Escambia County judge granted the Poarch Band’s request to dismiss the case, saying the tribe was immune and the court had no jurisdiction. Harrison’s appeal claims the Poarch Band is not immune from state court claims because the federal government has not officially recognized it as a tribe.
Appearing at a news conference with the family’s attorney, Brian Murphy, state Senator Bryan Taylor said the tribe should be liable under state law like other businesses. “This is just an example of a business that wants to make up the rules as they go, and they want the rules to be completely different for them than anyone else,” Taylor said.
Meanwhile, the Alabama Supreme Court released a ruling agreeing with the state’s attorney general that electronic bingo casinos are illegal in Greene County.
Greene County District Judge Lillie Jones-Osborne originally denied a request from Attorney General Luther Strange to order search warrants on four casinos in the county. She reversed herself, and approved subpoenas that allowed Strange’s office to raid the casinos.
According to the Associated Press, Jones-Osborne based the original decision on a 2011 order. At that time, the circuit court told the attorney general to return electronic bingo machines seized from Greene County casinos in raids that year.
The Supreme Court’s recent 62-page decision said the 2011 decision was incorrect, as was Jones-Osborne’s denial of the search warrants.
The attorney general’s office contends that the slot-like machines are not allowed. Casino operators insist the machines are simply electronic versions of the traditional game of bingo.
In a statement, Jones-Osborne said she signed warrants for the raids on orders from the Supreme Court.“But please know that I have never been a willing participant in the Greene County raids.”
Jones-Osborne said she lives in Greene County and is unhappy about job losses caused by the casino closings. Greene County commissioners are also unhappy. They say 1,100 people are out of work, and public and private groups will lose donations from the bingo halls.
The Poarch Band of Creek Indians continues to operate large casinos in Atmore, Montgomery and Wetumpka. Its casinos have electronic games, but no table games. The Attorney General has attempted to target tribal casinos as well, but without success. They are under federal jurisdiction.