By: John Zippert,
On June 22, 2016, Special Circuit Judge Houston L. Brown ruled in favor of returning 825 electronic bingo machines and other records to Greenetrack. The machines were seized on July 1, 2010, in the first State of Alabama raid on bingo in Greene County.
Perhaps anticipating an appeal by the State of Alabama, Judge Brown goes to great lengths in his decision to say that the electronic bingo machines used and seized were legally permissible machines under the definitions in Alabama Constitutional Amendment 743, governing the operation of bingo in Greene County.
The voters in Greene County adopted amendment 743 in 2003 by an overwhelming vote of 82%. Since the majority of voters in Greene County are African-American, many view the concerns surrounding the legality of Amendment 743, as issues of voting rights and self-determination by the majority of the county’s voters.
Greenetrack CEO Luther ‘Nat’ Winn said, “ This is a victory for Greenetrack and the people of Greene County. We have been battling to protect the voting rights and decisions of Greene County residents for a long time. We feel this decision by Judge Brown supports our argument that electronic bingo is legal, protected by Constitutional Amendment 743 and needed in Greene County for employment and economic development reasons.”
In his decision, Judge Brown states, “The core of the State’s position is that the bingo games at issue are slot machines and do not satisfy the “Cornerstone” test announced by the Supreme Court. The State contends that the games at issue fail the Cornerstone test because they do not require the player to hear bingo numbers called, to pay attention and then take physical action to mark a bingo card, and to recognize and verbally announce a ‘bingo’ in order to win.”
Brown says, “The defense (Greenetrack) contends that the Court must interpret Amendment 743 based on the plain language of the Amendment, and that the Court consider the history of the times, the state of the law, and the conditions necessitating its adoption in 2003. The defense further contends that the games are lawful under Amendment 743.
“The Court finds that the seized items are not due to be forfeited but returned to Greenetrack. Amendment 743 applicable to Greene County is the only constitutional amendment authorizing bingo in Alabama that defines both bingo and bingo equipment on its face and includes the term “electronic marking devices” within the definition of bingo.”
In its defense of bingo, Greenetrack put on witnesses and submitted newspaper clippings from the Greene County Democrat in 2003 when the amendment was being debated by the community to show that the people of Greene County knew that the Amendment authorized electronic as well as traditional forms of bingo, before they voted in the referendum on the Amendment.
In his opinion, Judge Brown refers to “nostalgic forms of bingo” to describe some of the conditions set forth by the Alabama Supreme Court in its Cornerstone decision which was used to shut down bingo in Macon, Lowndes and other counties. He specifically indicates that the Cornerstone definitions of bingo as a paper game do not apply to Greene County because of the definition of bingo in its electronic forms in Constitutional Amendment 743.
Judge Brown is also clear that his decision in this case was based on a plain reading and review of the wording in Constitutional Amendment 743 providing for and legally allowing electronic forms of bingo.
“The Court is presented with a record where the language of the constitution before it is plain, unambiguous and cannot be disputed. The definitions of bingo and bingo contain, among others, the phrases “electronic marking device” and “electronic card marking device.” Under the rules of construction long established by the Supreme Court, the Court’s task here is circumscribed and mandatory,” says Brown’s decision.
In a previous ruling, Judge Brown had returned over $75,000 in cash seized in the same July 2010 raid because the State could not prove the funds taken from the vault were from illegal gambling activities.
Judge Brown’s June 22nd. order requires return of the machines and records to Greenetrack within thirty days. We will see if the State of Alabama appeals this decision or allows it to go into effect and set a precedent for the legal protection of electronic bingo, under Amendment 743, in Greene County.