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VictoryLand reopens, judge blocks task force

MONTGOMERY. (AP) — Alabama’s largest casino reopened Friday, shortly after a judge ruled that the governor’s anti-gambling task force could not raid the gambling hall or seize any of its 6,400 electronic bingo machines.

The doors to VictoryLand in Shorter, a town of 461 about 20 miles east of Montgomery, opened as owner Milton McGregor gambled that the court order and his surrender of the facility’s liquor license would keep Gov. Bob Riley’s task force at bay.

McGregor had shut down the casino and other parts of the entertainment venue on Feb. 1 when more than 100 law enforcement officers prepared for a raid, which ultimately was called off.

The governor says the bingo machines are Vegas-style slots — which are illegal in the state — and has forced the shut down nearly all the state’s more than 30 casinos to halt their spread. The fight has stirred old civil rights tensions in poor, black areas where officials argue the gambling halls provide needed jobs and tax dollars.

The commander of the governor’s task force, John Tyson, said McGregor can expect a visit at some point.

“If they are not legal, you can count on us to enforce the law,” Tyson said.

Circuit Judge Tom Young of Alexander City, whose jurisdiction includes Macon County, issued a temporary restraining order saying Tyson doesn’t have authority in Macon County because he is Mobile County’s district attorney. The order was written so that it limited Tyson’s ability to act in any county other than Mobile.

“This order is a poster child for corruption,” Tyson said.

He said he will seek to have it lifted because “it attempts to provide protection for all of the illegal casinos in Alabama.”

For now, VictoryLand is the only major casino to reopen. Spokesmen for two other resort-style casinos — White Hall Entertainment Center in Lowndes County and Country Crossing in Dothan — said they are remaining closed.

VictoryLand surrendered its liquor license prior to reopening. McGregor, the casino’s owner, said that means authorities can’t raid the casino without a search warrant. State rules allow liquor license holders to be inspected at any time without a warrant.