After Alabama Governor Robert Bentley and Attorney General Luther Strange sent joint letters to the Macon County sheriff, district attorney, and officials in Lowndes County on September 22 requesting their assistance in shutting down VictoryLand once again, on Monday, Bentley announced he will be creating an advisory council on gambling, reports the Opelika-Auburn News.
Bentley told reporters that the ongoing gaming issue needs to be resolved once and for all and that while no state raids will be conducted, his recent executive order regarding the enforcement by sheriffs of the state’s gambling laws, which he said, clearly disallow electronic bingo, remains in effect.
According to the report, the Alabama Advisory Council on Gaming will consist of seven Bentley-appointed members, including one representative each from the Alabama Sheriff’s Association and the District Attorney’s Association, one Democrat and one Republican member appointed by the Alabama Speaker, and the same appointed by the Alabama Senate president pro tem. In an attempt to clear up the confusion regarding the state’s various gambling laws, after examining how gaming is handled in other states and then comparing them to Alabama’s laws, the council will present its final recommendation to the Legislature in January 2017.
Bentley said, “We have a problem in this state that has been ongoing now for years, and it will never be solved unless we come up with some recommendations and, I believe, allow the people to be a part of this process,” according to the news agency.
The Alabama casino has been closed since 2013 when it was shut down by the state’s attorney general’s office and $263,000 in cash and 1,615 machines were seized. The closure devastated Macon County, which has one of the highest unemployment rates in the state. On September 13, the electronic bingo parlor reopened and welcomed upwards of 3,000 people during the first four hours of operation.
In November last year, Bentley signed an executive order saying that gambling enforcement should be handled by district attorneys and local sheriffs, removing the power to police gambling from the AG’s office.
On the day of VictoryLand’s reopening, owner Milton McGregor said that Strange “is through with gaming issues,” and that, “Gaming and the bingo issue will be handled by the sheriff and the DA to determine the legality, and they have done that. Without question, everything on this floor is legal,” as reported by the news agency. However, soon after Gov. Bentley’s announcement on Monday, Strange issued a statement saying that the gambling laws in Alabama are clear and that the Alabama Supreme Court in March issued an opinion declaring “electronic bingo” unlawful in both Macon County, as well as the entire state. He said, “Alabamians who are dissatisfied with state laws against gambling have every right to advocate for new laws. Until the law is changed, however, it is the duty of local law enforcement to enforce current law,” according to the report.
Meanwhile, Macon County District Attorney E. Paul Jones said that he would prosecute any such cases that law enforcement brings to his office, but that it would not be conducting its own investigation due to the cost and lack of manpower. And for his part, Tuskegee Mayor Johnny Ford, who noted that the same machines are being allowed to operate in native-American casinos, said that he will be taking the issue to federal court.