Chickasaw, Ala. bingo hall raided

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 26, 2010

Chickasaw, Ala. bingo hall raided

Authorities on Thursday night raided a Chickasaw, Ala., electronic bingo hall that had opened just hours earlier, seizing 25 slot machines in what was the 21st such crackdown in a month.

Police made no arrests at the casino, but legal action could be come against the operation’s owners, said Mobile County District Attorney John Tyson Jr., the newly installed head of the Governor’s Task Force on Illegal Gambling.

James “Pete” Bridges, a Gulf Shores lawyer who launched MS Land Co. Inc. to open electronic bingo halls in Mobile County, has said he believes the operation’s machines meet the standards set by the state Supreme Court.

“We fully intend to file a civil action in the coming days,” Bridges said, accusing Tyson of making “no attempt to look at the facts of the law.”

Tyson disagreed.

“Slot machines are specifically illegal in Alabama,” said Tyson, who led a team that included Alabama state troopers, members of the Alabama Bureau of Investigation, and the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board.

Tyson said officials could not attach a monetary value to the operation but believe owners planned to expand to include up to 700 machines.

Sixteen officers raided the facility at around 4:30 p.m., just hours after it opened to a long line of senior citizens and other gambling enthusiasts.

The raid happened one week after the task force was criticized by state attorney general Troy King.

King declined, last week, to take control of the governor’s gambling task force but warned that could change if the task force continues to pursue the “ill-advised and reckless approach” of trying to raid electronic bingo casinos without search warrants.

Some public officials and casinos had urged King to use his authority as Alabama’s top law officer to take control of the task force after it used more than 200 state troopers to try to raid VictoryLand at Shorter and Country Crossing at Dothan on Jan. 29 without search warrants.

Tyson said authorities didn’t need warrants for Thursday’s raid.

“Everybody in America knows that if a police officer witnesses a murder, the police officer is authorized to act,” said Tyson, who sent in undercover officers to witness casino activities. “It’s no different here. The police officer witnesses illegal gambling (and) the police officer is authorized to act.”

Gov. Bob Riley and Tyson have promised to shut down electronic bingo halls around the state and have followed through, closing dozens of operations in places like Jefferson and Madison counties. The governor appointed Tyson on Jan. 25.

Tyson said many casino operators may open knowing they will get closed, but hoping to stay open long enough to turn a profit.

He said the task force will continue efforts to change that mentality.

“The very simple message is that if we are convinced that an illegal operation is going on, you can count on the governor’s task force to enforce the law,” he said. “No one is above the law.”

One non-Indian casino remains open in Alabama, Greenetrack at Eutaw in west Alabama. Greene County’s district attorney and sheriff have defended its operation, and the sheriff and other elected officials have threatened to stand in the door if the task force attempts a raid without a search warrant.

The Poarch Band of Creek Indians runs electronic bingo casinos in Atmore, Montgomery and Wetumpka, but they are not regulated by the state.