King favors bingo vote

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Attorney General Troy King said Monday he believes it should be up to the Alabama people to determine the legality of electronic bingo.

King, who spoke to members of the Andalusia Kiwanis Club, called the bingo debate “an odd time in which our state is focused on one issue.”

State bingo laws aren’t clear-cut, he said.

He said while the Supreme Court did issue a ruling on the six characteristics of an electronic bingo machine, the governor’s office has failed to ask the court to decide if electronic bingo is legal.

“The bingo law was one page in 1901. It says lotteries are prohibited,” he said. “Then it was clear cut.”

But since then, King said, there have been 17 constitutional amendments regarding bingo.

“Even those amendments aren’t clear,” he said.

“Other people have said you can’t play bingo electronically,” King said. “But the Supreme Court hasn’t ruled. In 1901 you couldn’t. In 2010, I believe you can.”

But, King said he believes that electronic bingo should have a five-by-five grid that says “bingo,” have the 75 choices of B1 to O75, and that the person playing bingo should be playing against other people.

And as for recent actions by the governor’s task force on illegal gambling, King said, “I did my best to be respectful to the governor and not to draw a line in the sand,” he said. “I gave him my opinion.”

In recent weeks, raids have been attempted at bingo facilities in Houston, Lowndes and Macon counties. The raids were stopped, but the facilities remain closed.

Last week King offered his opinion to Gov. Bob Riley on how to proceed in determining the legality of electronic bingo, as well as the operation of bingo facilities statewide.

King also said he anticipates the electronic bingo facilities will abide by court instructions and that the task force should not risk harm to law enforcement or the public with further warrantless raids.

King said he has been a lawyer for a long time and said he adamantly opposes judicial activism.

There are a lot bigger principles going on than just bingo, he said, adding that people shouldn’t have their rights trampled on.

“We need to respect the rules of law,” King said.

Still, if the people of Alabama vote in favor of electronic bingo, King said the state still has to figure out how to regulate it, tax it and keep it from getting out of control.

But, exactly how much money would come to the state with these legal bingo facilities?

“I don’t know that anyone knows how much these bingo halls make,” King said.

Other concerns include how the money brought in would compare to the effects that gambling addiction could have.

“The governor said they outpaced the taxes that could be collected,” he said. “People lose houses, cars and can’t buy food.”