Voters in Macon County knew that they were authorizing the non-traditional version of bingo when they approved a bingo amendment in 2003. That is what the Alabama Supreme Court was told by lawyers for the VictoryLand casino.
That interpretation is disputed by the state’s lawyers who want a judge’s ruling in favor of VictoryLand overturned. Meanwhile on Dec. 17, operators of the Shorter, Alabama casino, KC Economic Development LLC, filed written arguments with the Supreme Court, and are seeking oral arguments before the nine justices.
The 91-page brief filed by lawyers for VictoryLand states that voters intended to legalize “fast networked-computer play,” in order to compete with other facilities, including the Poarch Band of Creek Indians three Alabama casinos where forms of electronic bingo were already being played by the time the amendment was approved in 2003. In response to the filing, on Wednesday the attorney general’s office countered with a filing of its own that states, “If the voters in Macon County want VictoryLand to operate slot-machine-style casino games, they should pass a law that says something remotely similar to that,” according to AL.com.
The filings are the latest in a dispute that began when the AG’s office last shuttered the casino in 2013 and seized $263,105 in cash and 1,615 machines. After a four-day bench trial in June, Circuit Judge William Shashy ruled that not only were the machines consistent with the 2003 vote, but in its enforcement efforts the state was “cherry picking” by singling out VictoryLand when other non-Indian casinos had been operating the same type of machines for about three years. The “cherry picking” characterization was disputed by the AG’s office and pending an appeal to the Supreme Court by Attorney General Luther Strange Shashy’s ruling is on hold.
The state’s argument is based on a legal standard set by the Supreme Court in 2009 that established a six-part legal standard for bingo in the Cornerstone case concerning a Lowndes County facility. That standard describes traditional bingo, whereas the machines taken from VictoryLand look like slot machines. Those machines are linked to a network where players compete against each other playing actual bingo, as stated in the VictoryLand brief. The brief also states that due to declining revenue from parimutuel wagering in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, and in an effort to replace lost funding for nonprofits, schools and community services, Macon County turned to electronic bingo. Finally it asks that Amendment 744 is found by the Supreme Court to authorize electronic bingo and that it requires the return of cash, machines and records seized by the state.
Conversely, lawyers for the AG’s office want Shashy’s order reversed and declare the cash and machines as forfeit. They say the lower court failed to apply the six-part legal standard that serves as the Cornerstone. They contend that what public officials wanted when the amendment was pushed in 2003 doesn’t change what it actually says. Lawyers for the state argue that there is no relevant difference between the wording in the Macon County amendment and any other of the 18 county bingo amendments in Alabama, including the one at the center of the Cornerstone case.
A November executive order issued by Gov. Robert Bentley issued an executive order stripping the AG’s office of its authority to enforce gambling laws. That enabled local officials to enforce gambling laws, which reversed a 2011 order that had been issued by Bentley due to his concern about unequal enforcement of the law.
While Milton McGregor, VictoryLand’s owner, said that preparations for the casino’s reopening are underway and application are being takes, he has not given a date.