Last November, when Governor Robert Bentley issued an executive order stripping Attorney General Luther Strange’s office of its authority to enforce anti-gambling laws, instead giving that authority to local officials and district attorneys, the general consensus was that the way would be cleared for VictoryLand to reopen in Macon County.
It begs the question, why then hasn’t the casino been reopened? Tuskegee’s Mayor Johnny Ford says the reason revolves around politics involving Luther Strange and another casino operator, according to the Alabama News Network. Mayor Ford said that the AG is “conspiring with the Indians,” and that the Poarch Band of Creek Indians are bragging about it, it’s public knowledge and everyone in the small community of Montgomery, Alabama is aware that Luther Strange has met with the tribe and they made “$3 million or some amount” available to him for financial support for his run for governor.
It is Ford’s claim that Attorney General Strange is pressuring vending companies to prevent them from providing electronic bingo machines to VictoryLand in exchange for supporting him financially during his campaign for the state’s highest office. The electronic bingo machines are the same type used by the tribe in their Windcreek Casinos throughout the state. Several Memorandums of Understanding were cited by Ford between the AG’s office and the vending companies that were drafted in 2011.
Ford said that what Strange is doing is wrong considering that, both the governor and the court have given their blessing and that Luther Strange is the only reason Victoryland is not open today. Milton McGregor, VictoryLand’s owner, agrees with Ford, stating that nobody but the Poarch Creek Indians benefit from the AG’s actions. Strange countered by saying, “The only thing that we know for sure is the Poarch Creek Indians contributed $1.5 million to my opponent in the last election. So I don’t pay much attention to political rumors, so I just do my job and follow the law.” Also disagreeing with Ford’s claim is Poarch Creek Indian Tribal Council member Robert McGhee, who said, “The fact is the attorney general filed a lawsuit against the tribe arguing what they were doing on that land was not in accordance with state law; he lost.” In that case, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the state of Alabama didn’t have the right to bring a federal claim against the tribe to cease operations of its casinos, and that operations on tribal land could only be regulated by the federal government and the deadline had passed long ago for any challenge to the land-into-trust acquisitions for the site.
The mayor said, that while he is certain it will be denied, Luther Strange is planning to run for governor. He said, Strange is now in bed with the same tribe he sued a few months ago. The tribe is within its rights if they decide to back Strange if he campaigns for governor. Over the years the tribe has made several contributions to candidate’s campaigns. Because campaign finance laws dictate that contributions can’t be made to any political campaign until one year prior to the primary, whether or not the tribe donates to a Strange campaign, should he decide to run, won’t be known until June of 2017.
The AG’s appeal of the lower court’s ruling clearing the way for VictoryLand to reopen this year sometime is expected to be taken on by the state Supreme Court. 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.