Future of gambling task force before Alabama court

Published 10:49 pm Monday, March 15, 2010

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The future of the governor’s gambling task force is now in the hands of the Alabama Supreme Court.

The court is considering arguments over whether the task force’s commander, Mobile County District Attorney John Tyson, has legal authority to act in every Alabama county or whether he is limited only to his home county.

A Macon County judge used a civil court suit filed by county officials to block the task force March 5. Circuit Judge Tom Young ruled that Tyson only has authority in Mobile County. Minutes after the ruling, the county’s largest employer and taxpayer, VictoryLand in Macon County, reopened its electronic bingo casino. The casino had closed a month earlier to prevent a raid by Tyson.

Tyson appealed to the Alabama Supreme Court last week. He argued that the Supreme Court had made it clear in a previous electronic bingo case that a civil court ruling can’t be used to interfere with a criminal investigation into illegal gambling.

Attorneys representing several Macon County officials and residents filed arguments at the Supreme Court on Monday. They said Tyson had no authority to appeal to the Supreme Court, and the state attorney general is the only one who can represent the state’s interests before the Alabama Supreme Court.

“Our state laws make clear that John Tyson has no authority to represent the State of Alabama,” said John Bolton, a Montgomery attorney who is representing Macon County’s side.

Gov. Bob Riley created the Task Force on Illegal Gambling and appointed Tyson as commander to crack down on illegal gambling. The task force has raided some gambling halls. Others, including Country Crossing in Dothan, closed more than a month ago to prevent raids. Riley and Tyson view electronic bingo machines as illegal slot machines.

In another gambling case from Gadsden, the Alabama Supreme Court on Monday blocked an effort by the Etowah County sheriff to get a legal ruling on electronic bingo machines proposed for the north Alabama county.

Sheriff Todd Entrekin had sought a declaratory judgment on whether to allow bingo machines in 2008 after two groups, Coosa Entertainment Group and CBS Supply, applied for permits to conduct electronic bingo games.

A ruling by Circuit Judge Clark Hall in October 2008 appeared to clear the way for electronic bingo. The Etowah Baptist Association tried to intervene in the case to oppose electronic bingo, but was denied.

The Supreme Court ruled that there was not a proper lawsuit — because there were not two opposing sides — and it threw out Hall’s ruling.

The attorney general’s chief of staff, Chris Bence, said that puts the Etowah County back where it was in 2008, when the attorney general advised Etowah County officials that the state law allowing bingo in the county did not permit machines.

No electronic bingo gambling halls opened in Etowah County during the legal battle.