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Court allows governor to keep machines

The Alabama Supreme Court on Friday allowed the Governor’s Task Force on Illegal Gambling to keep machines and money seized in a raid last month on a White Hall gaming center and cleared the way for another raid if the task force chooses.

The gaming center remained open for Friday and had no plans of closing due to the Supreme Court decision.

General Manager Chad Dickey and White Hall gaming center attorney Collins Pettway Jr. could not be reached for comment.

In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court granted Gov. Bob Riley’s request to stay an order issued in the Lowndes County case by retired Justice Mark Kennedy. Kennedy’s order had required the governor’s task force to return more than 100 machines and more than $500,000 seized in a raid March 19. Kennedy had also shielded the White Hall Resort and Entertainment Center from another raid, pending the outcome of the case.

Gov. Bob Riley said the Supreme Court righted a wrong.

“There is no doubt that the machines seized during the raid are illegal slot machines,” Riley said. “To require law enforcement to give back illegal machines to the parties breaking the law would have been a terrible miscarriage of justice.”

Bobby Segall, an attorney for the charity that operates the gambling hall, said, “We respectfully disagree with the decision, but it is nothing more than a very preliminary decision.” He said he remains optimistic about the outcome.

The Rev. Joe Godfrey, executive director of the Alabama Citizen Action Program, called the decision “a great victory for those of us who are trying to get illegal gambling out of our state.”

The decision comes during a legislative session where lawmakers are considering a proposed constitutional amendment that would make sure the machines used at White Hall and several other locations in the state are legal.

The White Hall gambling hall, 20 miles west of Montgomery, replaced some of the seized equipment and reopened March 31. Officials said closing cost them $100,000 per day in lost revenue.

The center remained open Friday after the court’s decision. Segall said the Supreme Court’s stay opened the door for another raid, but he would be surprised if it occurred.

“I don’t think it would be a smart thing or a fair thing to do,” he said.

Todd Stacy, the governor’s press secretary, said the task force didn’t padlock the facility after the raid. He said the task force simply wanted to make sure it had plenty of time to analyze the machines and computer servers that were seized. It plans to use the equipment to generate a test case for the courts on the legality of gambling equipment in Alabama.

White Hall’s charity and Freedom Trail Ventures, the company that supplies the machines, say the equipment is legal electronic bingo machines. Riley argues that it’s illegal slot machines.

The Supreme Court still must decide the governor’s claim that Kennedy should have let another judge hear the case because he had done work for the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. The tribe operates three gambling halls in Alabama.

Also still to be resolved is the question of whether the machines are legal.

Siding with the governor Friday were Justices Lyn Stuart, Patti Smith, Mike Bolin, Tom Parker, Glenn Murdock and Greg Shaw. Ruling against the governor were Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb and Justices Champ Lyons and Tom Woodall. Cobb is a Democrat, and the other justices are Republicans.