Alabama AG Marshall files lawsuits to stop ‘electronic bingo’ in Greene and other counties

Sheriff Benison revised bingo rules to provide funds to hospital

Last week, the Greene County Democrat received from Sheriff Benison, a revised copy of Section 4 of the Electronic Bingo Rules for Greene County. The revised rules provide for the Greene County Health Services, which includes the Hospital, Nursing Home, Physicians Clinic and related health care facilities, to receive $25.00 per bingo machine to support healthcare for Greene County residents.

The new rules are effective as of October 1, 2017 and will provided needed revenues for the hospital with the November
distribution of bingo funds.

 

(MONTGOMERY)—Attorney General Steve Marshall announced Wednesday the filing of multiple lawsuits against casinos in five counties that continue to operate “electronic bingo,” on what he calls illegal slot machines in defiance of state law.  The lawsuits call upon local circuit courts to prohibit the defendants from promoting, operating and transporting “electronic bingo” machines and slot machines in those counties.
The civil lawsuits were filed in Greene, Houston, Lowndes, Macon and Morgan counties against the operating casinos, machine manufacturers and vendors, and the governmental authorities responsible for licensing and overseeing electronic bingo operations in those counties. In Greene County, the lawsuit was filed against all five bingo operators, bingo machine providers and Sheriff Jonathan Benison.
“It is the responsibility of the Attorney General to ensure that Alabama’s laws are enforced, including those laws that prohibit illegal gambling,” said Attorney General Steve Marshall.

“Through multiple rulings in recent years, the Alabama Supreme Court has made it abundantly clear that electronic bingo and the use of slot machines are illegal in all Alabama counties.  Therefore, we have taken action to hold accountable those who defy the laws of our state.  These lawsuits represent a comprehensive legal approach developed by the Attorney General, with the assistance of the Office’s career experts, to finally put a stop to illegal gambling.”
Responding to the lawsuit, Sheriff Benison stated, “First of all as Sheriff of Greene County I would like to clarify and say that we do not operate as casinos, and never tried to portray ourselves as such.  We are approved, legalized electronic bingo facilities.  This is legal because we the citizens of Greene County voted overwhelmingly in 2006 for Amendment 743 to provide for electronic bingo.”
Sheriff Benison continued, “We have been operating and providing jobs and funding for Greene County through this Amendment.  I don’t know about the other counties filed in the lawsuit but as for Greene County, even the shortest closure of our Electronic Bingo facilities will result in a devastating economic downfall for our county.  We don’t have big industries or factories that our county runs off of; electronic Bingo is our livelihood.
“Thousands will be affected because so many are direct recipients of funds made through electronic bingo, such as, Greene County Board of Education, Greene County Commission, Greene County Hospital, Greene County Nursing Home, Firefighters Association, E-911, City of Eutaw, City of Forkland, City of Union, City of Boligee, Greene County Sheriff’s Office and not to mention 16 sub charities that are incorporated to make sure everyone is provided with help.
“This is all of our youth, senior citizens, our law enforcement. These are the hundreds of employees that each one of the facilities employs.  What are they to do if they lose their job?  I am shocked about this news, but we are willing to do whatever is necessary to make sure that our vote for Amendment 743 was not done in vain.”
Luther Winn Jr., CEO of Greenetrack issued a statement saying in part,
“AG Marshall’s actions have real-life consequences. By his own hand, Marshall has now jeopardized the jobs of 115 mothers, fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, who work at Greenetrack. These are good-paying jobs with health insurance and retirement benefits. Don’t let Marshall fool you – this lawsuit signals his willingness to increase Alabama’s unemployment, food stamp and Medicaid rolls by 115 from one facility here in Greene County. Marshall’s lawsuit also jeopardizes Greene County E-911 and fire protection for the entire county, both of whom are completely dependent on bingo revenues.”
Winn goes on to say, “We question AG Marshall’s motives and timing. It is worth noting that AG Marshall has accepted campaign contributions from two individuals and two out-of-state law firms with gambling ties.”
Winn says that he has made numerous complaints to Federal officials, including U. S. Attorney Jeff Sessions about corruption which has been involved in the fight against electronic bingo and efforts to violate the voting rights of Greene County citizens who overwhelming supported a referendum for Alabama Constitutional Amendment 743, which authorizes electronic bingo in the county.
Since assuming office in February, Attorney General Marshall has continued to assist other agencies and district attorneys in the enforcement of anti-gambling laws in Alabama.  The multi-county lawsuits filed last week are the culmination of ongoing investigations into these casinos and gambling ventures around the state.   The civil complaints call for the closure of the casinos because the illegal gambling they offer presents legal nuisances in the state.
Many of these cases are based on an Alabama Supreme Court case in which the justices define bingo in great detail, as a game played on paper cards, with five rows across and five columns down, in which a player must actively participate in dabbing their numbers and recognizing and calling-out when they have a winning bingo. The courts have ruled that electronic bingo machines are in reality “slot machines” and are therefore illegal.
AG Marshall has brought his legal action in the local circuit courts of the counties where the electronic bingo games are played. It will take some time before these cases are heard and a more definitive decision can be made by the courts on the future of electronic bingo.

Alabama Power explains placement of power pole in the street

City & Benison.jpg

Shown above l to r: Councilpersons Bennie Abram, LaTasha Johnson, Shelia Smith, Mayor Raymond Steele, Sheriff Jonathan Benison, Mrs. Janice Benison, Councilman LaJeffery Carpenter and Councilman Joe L. Powell. Mayor Steele and City Council gives recogntion to Sheriff Benison.

At the Eutaw City Council meeting held Tuesday, August 22, 2017, Mayor Raymond Steele asked Dan Bott of Alabama Power to explain how the power pole got placed in the middle of the street alongside the courthouse. Bott stated that Alabama Power could not obtain an easement to place the pole on county property while the new water tank was being installed. He noted that a re-routing to place it on other property would have been too costly. “We had to consider the other hundreds of customers who are also served by that same line. That coverage extends to customers in the Knoxville and Jena communities,” he said.
According to Bott, it would have cost approximately $200,000 to re-route the line; placing it in the street, near the construction, cost about $30,000. Mayor Steele stated that this cost is included in the grant. It was noted that the work on the water tank should be completed by the end of September and the power pole will be returned to its original position.
At the opening of the meeting, Mayor Steele requested the removal of the agenda item which proposed a liquor license for John’s of Eutaw. A motion for the same was presented and passed. No explanation was given for withdrawing the item.
Councilwoman LaTasha Johnson noted errors in the previous minutes and asked that statements erroneously attributed to her be removed.
Councilman Joe Powell asked that travel mileage for Deadra Thomas be adjusted to the correct rate.
Since there was no old business on the agenda, the council approved the bills presented.
In his report, Mayor Steele again stated that the water tank would be completed in September, but there is still some work to be done on the water lines. According to Steele, by September, the city should be ready to read meters electronically. “Software will be installed next week and the staff will be trained,” he said.Councilman Powell stated that he does not want the city to cut grass if the workers will not remove the papers that get cup up. He said that limbs are also cut and left on site. Mayor Steele responded saying that the city has limited staff and cannot perform pick-up duty.
Councilwoman Johnson noted that there are similar problems on Kirksey, regarding cutting grass, papers and other debris and just leaving that there. Johnson also presented the sewer concerns for the residents of Lock 7. The mayor responded saying that there are no funding sources available for sewer grants at this time, until the water project is completed.
In the closing business, the Mayor and City Council presented a special recognition to Greene County Sheriff Jonathan Benison for his financial support of bingo funds to the city. Sheriff Benison and his wife were present to receive the award.
In public comments, Luther Winn, CEO of Greenetrack, Inc., gave a summary presentation on the initial purpose of the Bingo Bill passed by the community in 1973. He said that bingo was approved by the people with the expectation that significant resources would go to the primary institutions in the county. These included the school system, the first responders (Volunteer Fire Departments, Ambulance Service, E911) and the hospital. Winn noted that when there was only one bingo facility in the county and locally owned, the Greene County Hospital received approximately $120,000 a year in bingo funds. Now with five bingo establishments, hardly any bingo funds go to the hospital, which is struggling to remain open and in dire need of operating and upgrading funds. Winn distributed documents which supported his statements.

Gov. Bentley to name Alabama Advisory Council on Gaming to set the course for lottery, electronic bingo in state

greenetrackOn October 3, 2016, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley issued Executive Order 24 creating the Alabama Advisory Council on Gaming.
This group is tasked with “assessing the current state and local laws on gambling, as well as the taxes generated therefrom, and to evaluate the best practices in other states, including tax revenue structures and the enabling and implementing regulations and law, as well as comparing Alabama state laws to applicable Federal gaming laws.”
The Council is to report its findings and recommendations to the Governor and Legislature by January 31, 2017, prior to the next legislative session.
The Governor’s action comes after he and Attorney General Luther Strange sent a series of letters at the end of September 2016 urging local Sheriffs and District Attorneys around the state to enforce the laws prohibiting electronic bingo in their jurisdictions. This letter was sent to Greene County Sheriff Benison and D.A. Greg Griggers.Governor Bentley and Luther Strange sent a more specific and pointed letter to the Sheriffs and D. A.’s for Macon and Lowndes County, listing specific electronic bingo facilities, like Victoryland, which recently opened in these counties and requesting that they be closed based on Alabama law and Supreme Court decisions.
The law enforcement officials in Macon and Lowndes responded to this letter saying that they did not have the capacity or desire to move against electronic bingo facilities in their jurisdictions.
In his Executive Order creating the Gaming Advisory Council, the Governor indicates that gaming in Alabama has been the subject of dispute and controversy and that the State of Alabama needs a fresh perspective and a clear path forward as it relates to gaming and games of chance.
Efforts by the Governor to pass an Alabama State Lottery in this summer’s special legislative session met with defeat because of different gaming interests, including electronic bingo in counties with local Constitutional Amendments. Indian casinos in Alabama and casinos in other states, were not satisfied or protected by the legislation. The proceeds of the state lottery would have been used primarily to support Medicaid in the General Fund and possibly scholarships and pre-K educational programs.
The Governor’s proposed Advisory Council on Gaming will have at least 11 members appointed as follows:

• five (5) appointed by the Governor;
• two members of the House of Representatives, appointed by the Speaker of the House, one Republican and one Democrat;
• two members of the Alabama Senate, appointed by the President Pro Temp, one Democrat and one Republican;
• one representative of the Alabama District Attorneys Association, appointed by the Governor;
• one representative of the Alabama Sheriffs Association, appointed by the Governor;
• and additional appointments as the Governor deems necessary.

In the two weeks since his announcement of the Council, the Governor has not publically announced the appointment of any members.
The Greene County Democrat contacted Luther “Nat” Winn, CEO of Greenetrack for a statement of the Governor’s Advisory Council on Gaming. “ I hope Governor Bentley is serious and sincere about seeking a way forward for gaming in the state and not just trying to divert attention from the issue. He seems to be moving slowly in naming the Council. They have a lot of work to do in preparing recommendations for the upcoming legislative session, which begins in February 2017,” said Winn.
“We intend to continue operating in Greene County under Constitutional Amendment 743, because the voters of Greene County authorized electronic bingo. We know that Luther Strange has appealed our latest case to the Alabama Supreme Court, but we feel we are on sound legal and constitutional grounds to operate electronic bingo in the county.
“We feel the people of Greene County will support us and rally to our defense if the Supreme Court decides against the jobs, contributions and progress provided by gaming in Greene County,” said Winn.