Bingo machines illegal, Ala. high court rules

Baptist Press
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Posted: Nov 20, 2009 6:00 PM
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (BP)--The Alabama Supreme Court dealt the state's electronic bingo gambling industry a severe blow Nov. 13 when it ruled that so-called "electronic bingo machines" are in fact an illegal form of gambling. Gambling opponents and supporters, however, do not agree whether the court's 59-page ruling is the final "nail in the coffin" for electronic bingo gambling halls across the state.

The justices ruled on a case dating from the March seizure of 105 electronic bingo gambling machines from the White Hall Entertainment Center in Lowndes County. When Cornerstone Community Outreach, which operates the entertainment center, took steps to prevent future raids, Gov. Bob Riley and his Governor's Task Force on Illegal Gambling sought a court ruling on the legality of the machines.

The court agreed with the task force that the machines "have none of the elements of human skill and interaction that are fundamental to the game of bingo."

Although numerous gambling supporters across the state have argued that bingo is not gambling, the justices agreed with the task force and said "bingo is a lottery." They added that constitutional amendments allowing bingo in certain counties or municipalities are "exceptions to the lottery prohibition," which "should be narrowly construed."

After listing a half-dozen characteristics of "the game commonly or traditionally known as bingo," the justices said substantial evidence did not exist to prove the electronic gambling machines seized from the White Hall bingo hall "constituted the game of bingo." Instead, they said, testimony revealed the machines "operate almost exactly like slot machines."

Gov. Bob Riley called the ruling a "clear victory" for the task force.

"This ruling from the Supreme Court makes clear all these so-called electronic bingo machines in Alabama are illegal, and it's time for them to go," Riley said in a Nov. 13 press release. "There is no way any prosecutor, up to and including the attorney general, can claim any longer that the law is not clear. The court says bingo means exactly what all of us know it means. These machines don't meet the definition of bingo. Anyone who now claims the law is not settled is just trying to find an excuse to keep slot machines in Alabama. I call on the attorney general and all district attorneys to shut down these illegal gambling halls once and for all."

Attorney General Troy King, however, asked district attorneys in counties with constitutional amendments allowing bingo to study the ruling and determine if the machines used in their areas are legal.

"I am not telling how to enforce, to make the determination whether the machines in their counties are legal or illegal," King told the Gadsden Times Montgomery Division. In his letter to the district attorneys, King reportedly said he expected more lawsuits on the issue.

"I anticipate that the creation of this new test may lead to substantial new litigation across the state as vendors and manufacturers attempt to reconfigure technology used in existing machines and to devise completely new technology in an effort to comply with this decision," King said.

Meanwhile Riley has sent letters to gambling commissions in Nevada, New Jersey, Michigan, Colorado, Mississippi, Louisiana and Arizona to "make sure slot machine manufacturers cease all illegal activity in Alabama."

"What we've told the commissions is they need to make sure the manufacturers that operate under their jurisdiction are complying with the law in Alabama," Riley said in a Nov. 16 press release. "For our part, we intend to prosecute violations of our law to the fullest extent."

Sondra Washington writes for The Alabama Baptist (www.thealabamabaptist.org), newsjournal of the Alabama Baptist State Convention.

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