King: Bingo rules ‘illegal’

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 15, 2010

In a letter sent to Florala’s city attorney Thursday, Attorney General Troy King said Florala city officials do not have the authority to pass rules and regulations allowing electronic bingo and that only paper-card bingo is permitted within the city.

The letter sent to city attorney Wes Laird confirms that state and local legislation allows bingo in Covington County under certain provisions. King stated in the letter that “bingo” has been interpreted by the state as “(t)he game where numbers or symbols on a card are matched with numbers and symbols selected at random.”

King, who has not taken a stance against electronic gaming in other parts of the state, argued that the state of Alabama has “consistently interpreted the word ‘card’ as limiting bingo to a physical card.”

“In other words, until there is a change in the laws of the State of Alabama, bingo in the City of Florala is limited, by the plain language of the amendment, to physical, paper ‘cards,’” King stated. “Regardless of whether or not the county commission has chosen to regulate bingo, it does not empower a city or municipality in Covington County to pass rules and regulations allowing for electronic bingo.”

Monday, the Florala City Council unanimously adopted an ordinance setting the minimum standards to establish an electronic gaming facility in Florala. These standards include a minimum of 500 machines, at least 20,000-square-feet of facility floor space and at least one restaurant and hotel.

Laird said Florala’s action didn’t “allow” electronic bingo in Florala, but in fact limits electronic bingo.

He said bingo is already allowed in the county, and that Florala began considering passing an ordinance regulating it after hearing of interest in establishing a gaming facility there.

“So the attorney general thinks we should just take whatever we get in Florala,” Laird said. “He doesn’t think we should tax it?”

Mayor Robert Williamson said King’s opinion “doesn’t deter (the) exploration of this option.”

“The city understood, from the beginning, that things like this would surface — question marks on interpretations of the law,” Williamson said. “It’s a legal matter we’re letting the city attorney handle.

“But our goal from the start has been economic development,” he said. “It’s an opportunity, and we believe that electronic bingo is worthy of exploration. We aren’t deterred at all.”