DA would reject video bingo

Published 11:59 pm Thursday, November 19, 2009

The subject of bingo — specifically electronic bingo — is no stranger to Alabama or the residents of Covington County, and it remains in debate throughout Alabama. Tuesday, Attorney General Troy King asked the state’s district attorneys to determine if bingo operations in their counties are legal, in light of last week’s Supreme Court ruling on bingo.

Alabama’s highest court issued a decision last Friday saying that the machines seized at White Hall Resort and Entertainment Center, in Lowndes County, operate “almost exactly like slot machines,” which are illegal in Alabama.

King has said electronic bingo machines are legal in some counties, if operated properly, but Gov. Bob Riley says they are really illegal slot machines that should be shut down.

King said last Friday he would accept the Supreme Court’s definition of bingo, but he believes the legislature eventually will have to let the people vote in a statewide referendum to determine if electronic bingo is legal.

King has sent a letter to the district attorneys in the 18 counties that operate some form of bingo, asking them to study the “six-part test” the Supreme Court said should be used to determine if bingo is being played legally. After studying the ruling, he said the district attorneys should decide for themselves what legal action to take.

Covington is one of those 18 counties. Currently, only one bingo operation is permitted in Covington County — the American Legion Post 80, who plays paper bingo.

Thursday, Covington County District Attorney Greg Gambril said his reply to King’s request would state that his office does not recognize electronic bingo as an authorized form of bingo in Covington County.

“As for the bingo issue, the recent Alabama Supreme Court only confirmed what my office, the (Alabama Beverage Control) Board and Gov. Riley have been saying all along — electronic bingo is, and remains, an illegal form of gambling (here), and was by no means ratified by our local constitutional amendment that authorizes paper bingo,” Gambril said. “My office will continue to stand ready to prosecute anyone who possesses such a machine or opens a bingo hall such as the one in White Hall.”

Electronic bingo has been in Alabama almost two decades, and earlier this year was a topic of discussion in Covington County as a possible source of revenue for the county.

The machines, which resemble slot machines, started in small storefronts, but they are now becoming the main attraction in Las Vegas-style entertainment centers.

At present, there are two laws on the books in Alabama that regulate gaming in Covington County.

Act No. 93-886, passed by the legislature in 1993, provides for the implementation of a constitutional amendment authorizing the county commission to regulate the operation of bingo in Covington County and states that “a bona fide religious, educational, service, senior citizens, fraternal or veterans organization” which operates without profit may be permitted to conduct bingo. The act sets the annual license fee at $100 and charges the sheriff with licensing bingo. The act also allows charities to get a special permit to conduct bingo on specific occasions.

The second piece of legislation, Constitutional Amendment 565, approved by statewide vote in 1994, gives the county commission the authority to “promulgate rules and regulations for issuing permits or licenses and for operating bingo games within the county.”

To date, the commission has adopted no such rules and regulations, and at present, there are no electronic bingo operations within the county.