What’s next, Guard tanks?

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 30, 2010

True confession: I had a very hard time doing my job Friday.

There was the month to close, calls to return, a story to get, a Web project to finish – all interesting tasks, except they paled in comparison to the story unfolding in Alabama.

Before dawn, more than 200 troopers were mobilized and sent to Victoryland in Shorter and Country Crossings in Dothan to raid the gambling establishments.

They were sent by Gov. Bob Riley’s anti-gambling task force, now led by Mobile District Attorney John Tyson. And they wasted at least $130,000 of our tax dollars.

Watching the story unfold was like waiting until next Friday night to find out who shot J.R. The troopers arrived with lights flashing, followed by nine moving vans in which they planned to haul away the electronic machines. But they arrived without search warrants and were preceded by word of their planned visits.

Both Victoryland and Country Crossing quickly shut down. At 5:30 a.m., a judge issued an order blocking any raid at Victoryland. Our neighbor to the north, Conecuh County District Judge Jeff Brock, who’s been appointed to deal with a case determining the legality of a search at Country Crossing, refused to issue a search warrant until he hears from a gambling expert on the legality of the machines on Monday.

Seems like Riley, Tyson and company could have gotten that word before they mobilized hundreds of troopers at the time of day when there are normally eight troopers on duty in the entire state.

So the troopers left, the doors re-opened, and Tyson rushed to Montgomery to make a statement at the Capitol, announcing he would ask the Alabama Supreme Court to lift the restraining order in Macon County. He said the task force intends to proceed with raids of both operations.

Next came the attorney general, Alabama’s chief law enforcement officer, urging Gov. Riley to “proceed with caution” and advising him that the state could be held liable for damages and lost revenue at the casinos if a judge rules that the task force lacks legal justification to conduct the raids.

The governor fired back, accusing King of continuing “to show more concern for the casino bosses in Alabama than for the enforcement of the law by dedicated law enforcement officials.”

The only way that the foiled raids make any sense if is the governor thought there was enough money in the slot-like “bingo” machines to balance the state budget, which should be the foremost problem on the governor’s mind. Because no matter what side of the bingo issue you’re on, spending an estimated $130,000 on a show of force didn’t help anybody.

But, dang! It sure was entertaining.

“Looks like this would be a great time to own a donut shop in your neck of the woods,” a Northeast Alabama editor friend posted on my Facebook page.

“What will John Tyson do next,” a friend in Mobile wondered, “shoot down the Wind Creek Casino blimp?”

Surely not. But just to be safe, get out of the way if you see the National Guard tanks rolling.