AG King goes after gaming

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 2, 2004

White Hall – Alabama State Attorney General Troy King has set his sights on the state’s growing gambling industry and that includes the White Hall Gaming Center.

“My office has now completed the most exhaustive review of gambling within the borders of Alabama. The people of Alabama should take heart in knowing that this review has been comprehensive,” King said in a Wednesday press release. “Where illegal gambling is occurring in our state, steps have either already been taken or are in the process of being taken to enforce the law and stop these activities.”

King named the White Hall facility specifically in discussing what he deemed “illegal” operations.

Email newsletter signup

King said the Gaming Center opened in violation of Amendment 555 of Alabama’s Constitution.

The second stipulation of the amendment states that local amendments must pass without a dissenting vote.

According to King, Senator George Callahan voted against the local amendment to allow gaming in White Hall.

“Consequently, ratification of this amendment should have been on a statewide, not a local, ballot,” King said in the release.

According to the AP, the White Hall center operates under two constitutional amendments. One, approved by voters statewide in 2000, permitted bingo in Lowndes County, and another amendment, approved only in Lowndes County in 2002, expanded what could be offered.

The electronic games at White Hall now are not permitted under the original 2000 constitutional amendment, and “that is the fatal flaw,” King said.

King has instructed members of his staff

to file a declaratory judgment action asking the courts to invalidate the amendment allowing gaming in White Hall.

Once the Amendment is invalidated, the attorney general’s office will then pursue an injunction to halt the current operation of the gaming facilities in White Hall, the release said.

During a news conference to discuss the special session last week, Alabama Gov. Bob Riley was asked his opinion on the White Hall facility.

“I’m going to oppose any type of expansion of gambling in the state,” he said. “To say that some of these parlors are bingo, I don’t see it. I think the leadership in Alabama is going to have to come up with some definitions. It’s a complicated, complex issue (but) the people have spoken in this issue several times.”

Despite the declaration of the Attorney General’s office, business went on as usual in the Gaming Center Wednesday night.

Players lined the bright flashing electronic “bingo” machines and tried their luck as various games.

“White Hall Gaming Center appreciates the time and considerable effort the Attorney General has put forth on behalf of the citizens of Alabama to better clarify charitable bingo in the state,” an official press release from center officials said.

Officials then referred to other findings in King’s report that explained which type of Bingo machines are and are not legal in Alabama.

“The White Hall Gaming Center is pleased that the Attorney General has affirmed the legality of the Bingo devices operated in White Hall as well as other locations in Macon and Greene Counties,” the release said.

King explains that for Bingo machines

to be legal they must have a bingo card in the upper left corner of the screen, as the ones in White Hall do.

King’s statement goes on to read, “Second, just as in traditional bingo halls, players on the machines must compete against one another. Consequently, the electronic machines must be linked so that players are competing against each other to permit the machines to comply with the constitutional requirement of ‘bingo.'”

It is not entirely clear whether or not the Gaming Hall’s machines meet this requirement, though Hall officials clearly believe they do.

“While it is White Hall Gaming Center’s policy not to comment on pending litigation, it is important to note that none of the bingo devices in White Hall are among the ‘illegal’ devices that the Attorney General described in his press conference,” the Gaming release states.

The Christian Coalition of Alabama President John Giles responded to King’s press conference.

“We have always maintained, and the AG’s findings today confirm, that some of the video gambling machines at Victoryland and Greenetrack are illegal and the White Hall facility is an illegal gambling operation. We hope today’s action will force the removal of all illegal machines and the closure of illegal gambling operations,” Giles said. “We knew all along the White Hall Casino had a short shelf life due to ‘brute forcing and bullying their legislation’ by ignoring the dissenting vote cast by Senator Callahan. The current legislative leadership in Alabama is weak on gambling and will use every possible trick to facilitate gambling interests; it gets top priority every legislative session.”

Gaming officials, however, said they look forward to a positive resolution.

“We are confident that upon resolution, White Hall Gaming Center will legally continue to provide a safe, alcohol free, entertainment alternative to citizens, over the age of 19, in Alabama,” they said. “White Hall Gaming Center looks forward to its continued benefit to Lowndes County charities, its over 160 local-resident employees and doing business with local vendors.”

Though there was a lot of talk from both sides on Wednesday, it seems that it will take time for the courts to clear things up.

Jeff Connor, a marketing consultant with the Gaming Center, summed it up best.

“The bottom line is nobody slapped a padlock on anything, nobody’s shutting anybody

down,” he said.

-The AP contributed to this report