In February 2013 Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange sent investigators and state troopers to raid Milton McGregor’s VictoryLand casino in Macon County to remove electronic bingo machines his office believed were illegal, and in doing so caused more damage than originally thought by the owner.
That realization set in when McGregor had workers on site to access the damage and begin renovations after a ruling against the AG’s office by Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge William Shashy in August and subsequent order to return VictoryLand’s machines.
So far the damage caused by the raid and removal has cost McGregor hundreds of thousands of dollars as he prepares his casino in Shorter, he hopes, to be opened by Christmas, which now appears unlikely. More serious than the slight underestimation of the damages and restoration, is the existing agreement between three of the top vendors of electronic bingo machines and Strange’s office. The agreement created in 2011 allowed vendors to retrieve thousands of dollars of machines from closed casinos and relocate them to other locations, in exchange for the companies agreeing that the machines would not be returned to the state or be subject to some form of liability. The state’s three Poarch Creek casinos were exempt from the deal, and one of the three was the recipient of many of the retrieved machines. Leaving some of the top vendors wary of return, the agreement has also been a source of contention between Strange and the governor’s office.
In a move that seemed to indicate that both parties were backing away from the state’s long-standing battle with bingo operators over slot machine look-alikes, earlier this month Governor Bentley signed an executive order saying that gambling enforcement should be handled by district attorneys and local sheriffs, repealing the first executive order issued in 2011 that instructed the AG’s office to pursue gambling operations in the state. After being told the same thing with less force in January, Strange sent a letter to local district attorneys stating the same and agreeing with the decision by Bentley. However his office continued to pursue VictoryLand in the courts. A spokesperson for Strange’s office said on Tuesday that it still holds the agreement signed with the three vendors valid, and that Strange believes his office has the authority to enforce it.
Whether or not the agreement is enforceable, McGregor says that a Supreme Court appointed judge and their sheriff both say VictoryLand is legal, so he’s opening, and Macon County Sheriff Andre Brunson says his office will protect the casino’s right to operate the electronic bingo games that the people of the county voted for.
Brunson said, “We are going to stand our ground here in Macon. I have every intention of protecting the rights and well-being of this county’s citizens. I’m not threatening anybody when I say this, but whatever we have to do, that’s what we’ll do.”
The issue is serious in Macon County, and according to the Montgomery Advertiser, Brunson said Tuskegee Mayor Johnny Ford made references to the casino issue potentially resulting in a protest similar to the one in Ferguson, Missouri, during a recent interview. Brunson said, “I don’t want to unfairly put race into anything,” adding, “Right now, this is simply about right and wrong. We are right here. We followed the law and we’re right. That’s the way I see it, and as long as I’m sheriff, I plan to protect those rights.”
At its peak in 2009, VictoryLand was the largest bingo casino in the United States and employed as many as 2,000 workers.