Alabama antigambling task force head eyes McGregor

Published 11:24 pm Monday, January 25, 2010

MONTGOMERY (AP) — The new commander of Gov. Bob Riley’s antigambling task force said Monday an Alabama casino owner may have been obstructing justice when he hired a detective to trail the last task force head, who quit after winning $2,300 gambling at a Mississippi casino.

Mobile County District Attorney John Tyson Jr., picked by Riley to succeed David Barber, said he hasn’t gambled in nearly 20 years when he wagered and lost about $20 at a newly opened Mississippi casino.

Tyson questioned whether Victoryland casino owner Milton McGregor crossed a legal line when he hired a detective to follow Barber to an Indian casino in Mississippi. Riley announced Jan. 15 that Barber had resigned after disclosing his gambling winnings at the casino.

“Mr. McGegor needs to be concerned about whether or not he’s going to intimidate law enforcement officials from doing their jobs. I think it borders on obstruction and we are going to look into that immediately,” Tyson said.

McGregor, who operates more than 6,000 electronic bingo machines at VictoryLand in Shorter, said last week he had a private investigator follow Barber and witness his winnings at the Golden Moon casino in Philadelphia, Miss.

McGregor defended his actions Monday. “You can monitor activities going on around you. Everyone is entitled to do that,” he said.

McGregor said Tyson should look at Barber’s trip to Mississippi, including whether any other Riley appointees joined him, whether they received free meals and drinks, and how he picked the winning machine.

Tyson said Monday he and his wife, Beth, visited a Mississippi casino shortly after the first casinos opened in 1992 and spent about $20.

“It took us about 15, maybe 20 minutes and we lost it,” Tyson said.

He said he had never gambled anywhere else in the United States or abroad, but had been back to a Mississippi casino to see a musical performance and eat in a restaurant.

One of the business owners targeted by Riley’s task force, Country Crossing developer Ronnie Gilley, said he and other gambling operators are trying to develop restaurants and concert venues that compare to those at Mississippi casinos.

“We’re trying to set it up so he doesn’t have to go to Mississippi to see a show or eat in a good restaurant,” Gilley said.

Tyson is a Democrat and Riley a Republican, but they share the same view about the legality of the thousands of electronic bingo machines in Alabama.

“The electronic bingo machines they have are really nothing more than slot machines, and slot machines are illegal,” Tyson said at a news conference with Riley.

Riley started the task force a year ago to crack down on gambling. One of its first efforts was to assist Tyson in seizing more than 120 illegal gambling devices from Mobile businesses in March.

Since then, the task force has raided one of the state’s largest electronic bingo halls in White Hall and tried to raid Gilley’s Country Crossing at Dothan before being stopped by a judge.

Tyson would make no comments about possible targets or raids, but he said laws allowing bingo in some counties were written for traditional bingo cards, not machines.

“Your grandmother’s bingo game is what is authorized,” he said.

Tyson was the Democratic nominee for attorney general in 2006, but lost to Republican Troy King, who was initially appointed to the job by Riley in 2004. Since then, King and Riley have fallen out over the gambling issue, with King saying that machines can be used in some locations.

Tyson said he didn’t understand how King came to that conclusion. “Frankly, I think his loose interpretation of the law is what got this whole thing started,” the district attorney said.

In response, King issued a statement saying: “It is not surprising, but it is disappointing, to see rhetoric, politics, and agendas, yet again get in the way of the law. If Mr. Tyson, as he claims, is having a hard time understanding my interpretation of the law, before he saddles up with heavily armed state troopers, putting them and the public at risk, he should spend some time reading the 17 different constitutional amendments that legalize bingo in 16 counties in Alabama.”

Riley and Tyson said the appointment does not come with any compensation beyond Tyson’s salary as district attorney.