MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Gov. Robert Bentley created a new commission on Monday to study gambling and make recommendations to the Alabama Legislature.
The governor said the seven-member Alabama Advisory Council on Gaming will assess state and local laws on gambling and practices in other states, and make recommendations to the governor and legislative leaders ahead of the 2017 legislative session. After his proposed lottery legislation failed this summer and ongoing disputes about bingo casinos, the governor expressed hopes that the council will provide a “fresh perspective.”
“We hope they will come up with some concrete recommendations,” said Bentley, who pointed last month to three non-Indian electronic bingo casinos he said are operating in the state illegally. “It’s a difficult issue. It’s a difficult problem.”
Alabama has waged a long-running legal war over electronic bingo machines, which resemble slot machines with their whirling displays, chimes and rapid-fire games. Casino owners have argued that the computerized games play bingo — albeit at a rapid pace— and are allowed by state laws that authorize bingo in some locations.
The Alabama Supreme Court, however, has ruled that state bingo laws authorizing card-and-paper bingo games as charity fundraisers were not meant to cover these slot-like devices as well.
“We need to look at this with some reasonable people and decide what needs to be done and then present that to the legislature,” said the governor.
Bentley and Attorney General Luther Strange sent letters on Sept. 20 to the sheriff and district attorney in Macon and Lowndes counties asking them to stop “the continued operation of the illegal electronic bingo” at VictoryLand in Macon County and at White Hall and Southern Star casinos in Lowndes county, and to report back with their enforcement plans.
Bentley said Monday that he has no plans for a state raid on the casinos, and that local law enforcement should handle it.
A lawyer for Macon County Sheriff Andre Brunson said the sheriff had considered the games in operation at VictoryLand to be legal, but was willing to investigate any violation in conjunction with the district attorney.
Strange suggested that there’s nothing to investigate, because the courts have clearly ruled that these machines are illegal.
“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. My office stands ready to assist Governor Bentley and local law enforcement in making sure Alabama laws are upheld,” Strange said in a statement Monday.