The Alabama Supreme Court has ordered casino shutdowns in two counties, a move that has prompted questions over the future of gambling in the state. Gaming facilities in Lowndes and Macon counties are set to close soon following the decision, which was reached Friday, marking the latest episode in a decades-long tense relationship between state and gambling.
Casinos affected by Friday’s decision include VictoryLand Casino, White Hall Entertainment and Southern Star Entertainment. The court ordered Lowndes and Macon County circuit courts to issue injunctions that would prohibit the use of electronic bingo machines at the casinos within 30 days of the order.
Political Analyst Steve Flowers told News 19 the move will hurt those communities economically. “It’s the biggest employer in their county. They pay local taxes, and on top of that, they give to all the schools and charities in their district. It’s very vital in those counties, they only have about 15,000 to 20,000 people,” he said, highlighting that lawmakers and voters approved constitutional amendments decades ago for electronic bingo in those counties.
However, Attorney General Steve Marshall argues that gaming taking place in those casinos is not bingo allowed by the amendments, but slot machines, which are not permitted. “Under the current law of Alabama, there is no such thing as electronic bingo. These in fact are slot machines, and slot machines are illegal under Alabama law,” he said, according to the cited source.
Marshall further called the court’s ruling a victory against what he calls “a menace to public health, morals, safety and welfare.” The Alabama Supreme Court, for its part, agreed the operation of illegal electronic bingo machines is illegal, and called the facilities “a public nuisance.”
The forthcoming injunction in Macon County against VictoryLand is preliminary, which will prohibit electronic bingo until further court order, noted Montgomery Advertiser. As for the forthcoming Lowndes County injunction, it will permanently prohibit electronic bingo at White Hall and Southern Star.
The ruling comes after circuit courts in the counties denied the Alabama Attorney General’s Office requests for injunctive relief against the casinos. The AG’s office sued the facilities, as well as some law enforcement and city officials, in a pair of lawsuits in 2017, claiming that lack of prosecution by local law enforcement necessitated state action, adds the cited source.
Friday’s decision marks the latest move in Alabama’s decade-long saga on electronic bingo games. The court hoped to finally put the issue to bed in 2016, when it ruled that electronic bingo was not protected under local amendments allowing the practice of “charity bingo.” In its latest decision, it ruled that evidence collected by agents in the AG’s office showed that the electronic bingo games available at the casinos do not meet the standard of “bingo.”
Instead of seeking to prove the supposed legality of the gaming operations, attorneys for the casino instead argued the state couldn’t meet the legal burden of proving that the facilities were causing irreparable harm by offering electronic bingo. Additionally, White Hall wrote in court filing that an injunction would cause “potential irreparable harm and damages” amounting to millions of dollars, to which the court pushed back, stating it couldn’t run an “illegal enterprise.”