In the ongoing tug-of-war between Alabama businessman, Milton McGregor and Attorney General, Luther Strange, Assistant Attorney General John Kachelman has filed a notice of appeal to the most recent ruling. In 2013 Police seized $263,105 and 1,615 electronic bingo machines from McGregor’s VictoryLand, which includes Quincy’s 777 Casino. On Thursday Circuit 15 Judge William Shashy ruled the forfeiture unlawful, citing the equal protection clause and stating that McGregor’s VictoryLand was being singled out for enforcement while other venues in the state continue to operate. The judge did not rule on the legality of the devices.
In a scathing statement the judge said, “It is apparent at the present time that the State of Alabama is cherrypicking which facilities should remain open or closed. This Court refuses to be used an instrument to perpetuate unfair treatment.”
Shashy was ordered by the Alabama Supreme Court to hear the case. All judges in the circuit where VictoryLand is located have been recused from hearing the case.
Not addressing the most pressing legal issue, whether the machines are even legal, means the battle is far from over. The issue of the search warrant executed to seize the money and property could find its way into the federal court system and eventually all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In 2013 Circuit Judge Tom Young denied the supporting affidavit for the search warrant due to a lack of probable cause. The Court of Criminal Appeals agreed with his ruling unanimously. Then the Alabama Supreme Court forced Judge Young to sign the warrant, which he did with “the greatest judicial reluctance.” VictoryLand lawyers were not provided access to the over 200 page document when the facility was last raided. The documents were later unsealed.
Macon County voters have approved the machines and lawyers for VictoryLand contend the litmus test or “Cornerstone Rules” set out by the Alabama Supreme Court, which define illegal gambling devices, do not apply because of the citizen referendum.
VictoryLand was one of the largest employers in Macon County before the latest raid and seizure. Public protests and Civil Rights rallies, including a May 2014 protest at the University of Alabama campus in Tuscaloosato have occurred over the issue. Over 500 people from Macon and Greene counties gathered at the university to show their discontent with the Attorney General’s enforcement actions that gutted jobs in their counties.
The battle may not need to proceed for years on end if Alabama Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh gets his way in an upcoming special session of the Legislature, set to address budget issues. Marsh has proposed a bill that ran out of time in the regular session on April 15th. The bill would authorize a statewide lottery as well as allow casinos to operate at the state’s four greyhound tracks. Victoryland has a track, which was idled after revenues from bingo machines disappeared. There is also a shuttered 300 room luxury hotel which closed shortly after gaming ceased there. Since the raid and seizure of cash and machines, VictoryLand has been reduced to a small simulcast facility open 6 days a week.
At one point VictoryLand was in the top ten “casinos” in the United States with 6,400 machines. As a bingo facility, it was the largest in the U.S. by machine count.