By: John Zippert, Co-Publisher
At a November 2nd hearing on the status of the case of the State of Alabama vs. Electronic Bingo machine providers, owners and charities, Judge Arthur Haynes postponed the pre-trial hearing until January 11, 2024. At this hearing, the judge said he would set a trial date, probably sixty (60) days later, in early March 2024.
Judge Haynes, a specially appointed retired Circuit Court Judge, postponed the pre-trial hearing because both sides agreed that all depositions and visits to the bingo halls had not been completed. This decision prolongs the life of electronic bingo into next year and extends the six-year legal effort of the State of Alabama to end the use of bingo machines, as illegal slot machines, in Greene County.
At the hearing, Judge Haynes raised the issue of the lawsuit and injunction by Sheriff Benison to institute new “Bookend Bingo rules” in Greene County. Haynes asked the parties if he should consolidate the cases since they were similar in saying that the current gaming machines were illegal and needed to be replaced.
Attorney H. E. Nix, representing Sheriff Benison, did not agree with consolidating the cases. Nix argued that the Sheriff is not opposed to the current rules but feels these new rules will conform better to the rulings of the Supreme Court concerning bingo. Nix also argued that the Sheriff clearly defines in the new rules an “electronic marking machine’ for bingo. These machines are approved in Constitutional Amendment 743, which allows for electronic forms of bingo in Greene County.
The State of Alabama has not approved the new “Bookend Bingo” rules for Greene County. Assistant Attorney General Kackleman, who represents the State of Alabama, said that he was aware of the Sheriff’s plan to change the rules but would not comment on whether these rules would comply with state law and the supreme Court’s rulings defining bingo.
The machine owners, operators and charities were not convinced that the Sheriff’s new rules would be accepted and give legal sanction to the electronic bingo operations under Constitutional Amendment 743.If the Sheriff’s new bingo rules are adopted, the State of Alabama may have to take new legal action against the same defendants in the original case to end bingo under the new rules, if they are unacceptable.
The lawsuit defendants pointed out that there was an arbitrary and selective law enforcement approach between the Attorney General’s treatment of bingo operations in white controlled Houston County and Black politically controlled Greene County. The defendants want to argue this case of selective enforcement as a denial of equal rights for Greene County under the equal justice clauses of the 14th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution.
It was also noted during this process, that Sheriff Benison has suspended payments of bingo funds to public agencies and charities in Greene County since May of 2023. No monthly payments of bingo machine fee proceeds have been made to the County Commission, Board of Education, municipalities, and other charitable groups since the end of May. The Sheriff is still collecting revenues from the bingo operators. He says he is using these funds to pay for legal defense.
The Sheriff was distributing an average of $600,000 a month to public agencies and charities. He sent a letter in early June saying he was temporarily suspending payments beginning in June of 2023. Payments have been suspended for five months (June – October 2023) with no assurance of when they will be restored. The school system, County Commission, hospital, and municipalities have had to develop their budgets for the 2023-24 fiscal year, without any assurance of revenues from bingo.