Persons leading community meeting on bingo, Sunday night at the National Guard Armory; L to R.State Representative Artis J. McCampbell, Spiver W. Gordon, Leo Branch, Chair Greene County School Board, Sarah Duncan, Rev. James Carter, Finest Miles and State Senator Bobby Singleton.
The past week has been a difficult one for the future of electronic bingo in Greene County. On Thursday, the Alabama Supreme Court upheld lower court decisions seizing electronic bingo machines and cash from Victoryland in 2003. The Court continued to assert that “bingo” was a game played on paper cards and that none of the Constitutional Amendments, including Greene County’s Amendment 743, protected electronic gaming machines as legal in Alabama. On Sunday at the Eutaw National Guard Armory, over 150 local residents came out to hear State Senator Bobby Singleton and State Representative Artis McCampbell explain their bill to change Amendment 743. The four electronic bingo establishments in the county, Sheriff Benison, County Commissioners, School Board members, other public officials and citizens were present to understand and discuss the bill.
On Tuesday, in the Alabama State Senate, Senator Harri Anne Smith of the Wiregrass area contested Singleton’s bill, which had been passed out of committee, on the floor. Her action blocked the bill.
Senator Singleton withheld his bill and contested all other local bills pending in the State Senate, in the same way that Smith contested his bill.
Impact of Alabama Supreme Court decision
Attorney General Luther Strange hailed the Alabama Supreme Court’s decision Thursday against VictoryLand as a resounding victory for the rule of law and the definitive word that electronic bingo is illegal in Alabama.
“The Alabama Supreme Court’s ruling is abundantly clear that electronic bingo is illegal and repeated court challenges to the contrary will not change that fact,” said Attorney General Strange. “I cannot say it any better than the court itself.”
The Alabama Supreme Court ruling observed: “Today’s decision is the latest, and hopefully the last, chapter in the more than six years’
worth of attempts to defy the Alabama Constitution’s ban on “lotteries.” It is the latest, and hopefully the last, chapter in the ongoing saga of attempts to defy the clear and repeated holdings of this Court beginning in 2009 that electronic machines like those at
issue here are not the “bingo” referenced in local bingo amendments. It is the latest, and hopefully the last, chapter in the failure of some local law-enforcement officials in this State to enforce the anti-gambling laws of this State they are sworn to uphold, thereby
necessitating the exercise and performance by the attorney general of the authority and duty vested in him by law, as the chief law-enforcement officer of this State, to enforce the criminal laws of this State.
And finally, it is the latest, and hopefully last, instance in
which it is necessary to expend public funds to seek appellate review of the meaning of a simple term — “bingo” – which, as reviewed above, has been declared over and over and over again by this Court. There is no longer any room for uncertainty, nor justification for continuing dispute, as to the meaning of that term. And certainly the need for any further expenditure of judicial resources, including the resources of this Court, to examine this issue is at an end. All that is left is for the law of this State to be enforced.”
Attorney General Strange added, “I consider the work of my office in bringing the issue of electronic gambling to the courts for final judgement to now be complete. It is now up to the Governor, ALEA, and local authorities to ensure that the law is properly enforced.
“I am proud of the work of the many local law enforcement jurisdictions who have performed their duty to enforce our laws and I am equally proud of my legal team in bringing this case and the question of electronic bingo to a successful conclusion.”
There is a similar suit pending in Greene County about machines seized in raids on bingo facilities in Greene County. Greene County’s Amendment 743 specifically allows “electronic forms of bingo” while legislation in other parts of the state do not explicitly permit electronic machines, which the Supreme Court, AG Strange and other consider illegal gambling slot machines.
It is unclear if Attorney General Strange plans to raid bingo again or leave it up to local law enforcement while he pursues his own political career, which may include a run for Governor.
Sunday’s Community Meeting on Electronic Bingo
Senator Singleton came to the meeting in Greene County to discuss his local legislative bill, which makes changes in the Greene County Constitutional Amendment 743 on bingo. He said that the bill was developed in consultation with Republican leaders of the Senate,
in particular Dale Marsh, to clarify the status and legality of electronic bingo. “ We need 21 votes to pass this bill and there are only 6 Democratic Senators, so we need help,” said Singleton.
The bill would allow gaming on any machine authorized for use in Indian casinos by regulations of the National Indian Gaming Commission. “Since these machines are legal at Indian casinos, they should be legal in Greene County,” said Singleton. He also indicated that several legislators were very protective of the Indians and did want him to use their definition to justify our use of electronic bingo machines that are approved in the Indian casinos.
The bill requires that gaming be done at only one facility in Greene County, which is licensed for pari-mutuel betting on horses and greyhound dogs. This facility is Greenetrack. If these changes pass, the other three bingo facilities, permitted by the Sheriff, will be closed.
There was much discussion on the employment and services that would be lost if these other three facilities were forced to close.
The bill provides for a state and local gross receipts tax on the revenues generated by electronic bingo, which are estimated to be $50 million a year after winnings paid out to participants. The State of Alabama would receive a 4% tax while the local tax would be 8.5% or possibly more. The local tax would go to benefit the County Commission, School Board, Hospital, E 911, fire associations and others.
There is a second tax on the portion of revenues that go to gaming machine providers. The Sheriff and the Eutaw Police Department would divide these funds.
Local observers pointed out that these tax provisions would provide Greene County residents with reliable information on the funds flowing through these gaming establishments. At present, the amount of money generated by these facilities is not publically known. “Without transparency on the total amount of funds handled by these gaming entities, there is no way to know how generous they really are in helping agencies and charities in the county,” said Carol Zippert, Greene County School Board member.
Val Goodson, speaking for the Center for Rural Development, the charity benefiting from Green Charity Bingo said in last year (2015) the facility had $17 million in gross revenues and paid only $402,000 to the charity.
A five member Greene County Gaming Commission would be named to take over the responsibilities for regulating and administering bingo from the Sheriff, who is designated under the current amendment. Sheriff Jonathan Benison attended the meeting and spoke in strong defense of his work for the past six years in regulating bingo. He echoed the comments of many others that he was not aware of Singleton’s bill and it should have been discussed with Greene County leaders and residents before it was proposed in Montgomery.
In closing out the meeting Singleton said, “This bingo bill may be our last best hope to save bingo in this county before the Attorney General or someone else comes against us. This is the main reason we made this proposal. We want to help Greene County save and benefit from bingo.”