Sheriff Benison hosts meeting to explain new ‘Bookend Bingo’ rules

Screen shot of electronic bingo machine in the Beginning Phase of Bookend Bingo, in Sheriff’s new rules

On Monday, October 30,2023, Sheriff Benison held a meeting at the William M. Branch County Courthouse to explain his new rules for conducting electronic bingo in Greene County. He was assisted in his presentation by his lawyer, Attorney Troy King, who previously served as Alabama Attorney General.

Attorney Troy King and Attorney H. E. Nix filed and signed the Sheriff’s recent lawsuit to secure an injunction to require the machine providers, operators and charities currently involved in Greene County, under Constitutional Amendment 743, to change their machines and operations to comply with the Sheriff’s new rules for playing bingo.

Sheriff Benison indicated that he was designated in Constitutional Amendment 743 to be the regulator and promulgator of electronic bingo in Greene County. He said, “I will do what is necessary to implement and preserve electronic bingo for Greene County, especially to distribute revenues from bingo to agencies and organization in the county.”

In answer to a question, if the new rules will be acceptable to Steve Marshall, Alabama Attorney General and the Alabama Supreme Court, Troy King said, “No we have not had these rules approved. We feel the prior rules were legal and proper. The Sheriff redesigned the rules to meet all the requirements of the Alabama Supreme Court, so we feel that they will be approved and used to allow electronic bingo to go forward in Greene County.”

King went on to say, “Our new rules define for the first time what an ‘Electronic marking machine for bingo’ is and how they operate in a county that has language in its C. A. 743 that permits electronic forms of bingo. Our definition also makes clear that bingo electronic marking machines are not slot machine or other forms of illegal gambling machines, as the Attorney General has argued in prior legal cases against bingo in Greene County and other counties.”

The new rules require players to participate in a Beginning Phase, where they will play traditional bingo, based on letters and numbers being called to complete patterns on a five column by five row bingo cards, displayed on an electronic machine on which they must daub their numbers. Then they get to play the Entertainment Phase of bingo, which is like the games currently being played. At the end of their session, they must again play the Completing Phase on bingo cards displayed on an electronic machine. King indicated that for some machines all that would be required is a software update to accommodate the playing of the beginning and completion phases of bingo.

Further King said, “These rules are specific to Greene County under C. A. 743 and limit the proliferation of bingo to other counties, which should satisfy the state.

“We are hoping to get a hearing, a judgement, and a preliminary injunction, in Greene County Circuit Court, to allow the Sheriff to implement his new rules for bingo in Greene County in November. We also hope to use these new rules to get the Attorney General to dismiss his lawsuit against bingo in Greene County and allow operations to go forward under the new rules,” said King.

Some of the bingo operators have expressed concerns about moving ahead with the Sheriff’s required changes without some assurance that the Attorney General and Supreme Court will accept these rules and allow electronic bingo to continue in Greene County.

A status hearing in front of Judge Haynes on the case of the State of Alabama vs. Bingo operators and charities in Greene County, is scheduled for this Thursday, November 2, 2023, at 1:00 PM in the William M. Branch Courthouse. The Sheriff’s new rules are likely to be discussed at this hearing.

In a separate legal matter, OIC Dream, Inc. which operates the Frontier Bingo parlor has filed a lawsuit in Federal court alleging that Sheriff Benison has arbitrarily imposed ‘box fees’ on operators for a minimum of 500 bingo machines and used some of the funds that were designated for Greene County agencies to pay legal fees and other expenses of the Sheriff’ s Department.