Commission to write new bingo rules

Published 9:51 pm Monday, May 11, 2009

A spokesman for the Covington Baptist Association called on the county commission to pass rules prohibiting electronic gambling here, but the commission chairman quoted the Bible and said he must follow the “civil laws of man.”

Dr. Fred Karthaus, pastor of First Baptist Church in Andalusia, told the commission that in April, the Covington Baptist Association adopted a resolution that, “encourage(d) all public officials — state and local — to use the powers and prestige of their respective offices to help us to protect our families, schools and communities from further gambling in our state or county.”

Karthaus was accompanied by a group of more than 30 local church officials.

“It’s become unclear — to the citizens of Covington County — (what) your thoughts (are) concerning the expansion of gambling in our county,” Karthaus said. “Since it’s been reported you are ‘washing (your) hands of gambling,’ would you use the power granted you by the state of Alabama by constitutional amendment, to write restrictive guidelines concerning gaming which would include the county prohibit all electronic gambling?”

Earlier this year, the commission unanimously adopted a resolution asking the legislature to repeal a 1993 act setting rules for charitable bingo in Covington County. House Bill 821 introduced this year would have done that, but both Rep. Seth Hammett (D-Andalusia) and Sen. Jimmy Holley (R-Elba) have said the legislation won’t pass.

Constitutional Amendment 565, approved by statewide vote in 1994, allows charitable bingo in Covington County and charges the county commission with setting rules for it.

When the commission asked that the first act be repealed, they said they were attempting to “eliminate confusion.”

Since that time, at least one commissioner has told The Star-News that the county wanted to tax bingo. At least three representatives of the gaming industry have approached the county about operating electronic bingo in the county for local charities, although one of those representatives has abandoned the effort.

A member of the local American Legion confirmed last week that on Mon., May 4, a representative of the gaming industry met with the local group, which currently has a traditional paper bingo operation, to discuss installing electronic machines. At that meeting, the member said, the group voted to “explore” the opportunity.

Those actions led the Covington Baptist Association to pass the resolution presented Monday and to host a meeting at which details of the state’s gambling laws were discussed.

After making his presentation Monday, Karthaus called for an individual vote from each of the commissioners on their respective positions, but only received an answer from Chairman Lynn Sasser.

“Where the commission stands at this point, is that we have the amendment of 565,” he said. “At this point, we have our hands tied. That’s saying we need to regulate this thing called bingo. Not only that, when I read Romans 13, verse 2, it says, ‘We are to live by the civil laws of man.’ One of the civil laws we are looking at is an amendment that has been voted on by the people. That’s in the law book, and personally, I oppose gambling. I can say that on behalf of any member of this board.

“It’s a situation that we personally would rather not have to look at, but since we have an amendment, we’re going to have to look at it,” he said. “Our hands are tied to a certain extent.”

The first agenda for the meeting, released to the media on Friday, included the adoption of rules and regulations concerning bingo, county attorney Julie Moody said.

“That agenda was revised,” she said. “They were removed because the commission just got them on Friday and they felt like it was a push. They’re 13 to 15 pages long. The purpose of them is to give the commission more power to regulate bingo. It’s not gambling. It’s bingo set out in the constitutional amendment 565, which specifically states the commission has the authority to implement rules and regulations.

“Those have never been implemented other than what is in the amendment,” she said. “We hope to have the commission implement stronger rules governing bingo in this county and the commission will have time to review those and make changes and adopt (them) at the next meeting,” she said.

After The Star-News made a written request to the county administrator for a copy of the proposed guidelines, the request was forwarded to the county attorney who said the proposed rules weren’t public record because they had not yet been acted upon and fell under attorney-client confidentiality.