Greene County officials vow to block bingo raid

Published 12:33 am Tuesday, February 9, 2010

MONTGOMERY (AP) — A showdown is developing between the governor and Greene County officials over one of the largest electronic bingo casinos still operating in Alabama.

Greene County Sheriff Ison Thomas said that he regulates the machines used at Greenetrack near Eutaw, and that tests have determined they are legal. If the Governor’s Task Force on Illegal Gambling tries to raid Greenetrack, Thomas said he will stop it.

“No one is above the law, including the task force. And should they come to Greene County, I cannot allow them to raid legal businesses,” he said in a letter.

A Greene County legislator, Democratic Sen. Bobby Singleton of Greensboro, said he and other local officials will join the sheriff in trying to block a raid on the rural county’s largest employer and taxpayer.

“We will stand in the doors and not allow them to do that without a valid search warrant,” Singleton said Monday.

Task Force Commander John Tyson said the Greenetrack “continues to operate illegal slot machines.” He said the 1,500 machines must be shut down and removed from the state.

“The time for rhetoric is over. The rule of law will be upheld in Alabama,” Tyson warned in a statement.

Three major casinos — VictoryLand at Shorter, Country Crossing at Dothan and White Hall Entertainment Center in Lowndes County — have closed their entire facilities, including restaurants and hotels, to try to prevent raids. The closures of VictoryLand and Country Crossing came after Tyson tried unsuccessfully to raid them before dawn Jan. 29 without search warrants.

VictoryLand attorney Mark White said Monday that VictoryLand plans to take court action later this week aimed at getting the entire complex reopened as soon as possible.

White, a former president of the Alabama State Bar, said the crackdown by Riley’s task force is getting tense in Greene County.

“Lord knows what is going to happen in Greene County. That is scary,” he said.

Greenetrack is the only major non-Indian gambling hall still operating in the state. The Indian casinos at Montgomery, Wetumpka and Atmore are under federal supervision and have not been targeted by Riley’s task force.

Casino operators say the threat of raids forced them to lay off 5,000 workers. Riley announced Monday the state will provide special services Tuesday and Wednesday to help the workers apply for unemployment compensation and other benefits.

“Although these casino operations are illegal, we will offer any and all assistance possible to any Alabamian who is without a job,” Riley said.

While laid-off workers fill out forms, gambling operators will be pushing legislation allowing them to reopen their businesses and recall their employees.

The House and Senate tourism committees meet together Tuesday to consider legislation that would allow electronic bingo at 10 sites, including VictoryLand, Country Crossing and White Hall. Singleton, who chairs the Senate committee, is optimistic his committee will pass the bill.

On Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee will consider a bill by Singleton that would undercut the governor’s task force by voiding Riley’s ability to initiate a criminal investigation. That ability would rest with the attorney general.

In a related development, the Greene County sheriff has asked state Attorney General Troy King to use his power as attorney general to take over the bingo litigation from Riley’s task force.

Chris Bence, the attorney general’s chief of staff, said Monday that the request is under review.

King recently denied a similar request from Country Crossing’s supporters.