Alabama AG to take over antigambling task force

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 23, 2010

MONTGOMERY (AP) — Two Alabama casinos announced plans to reopen Monday after Attorney General Troy King said he is taking over the Governor’s Task Force on Illegal Gambling and ordering a halt to raids of electronic bingo casinos until a court rules whether the machines are legal.

Task Force Commander John Tyson said the governor has ordered him to fight King in court because the attorney general “is determined to do whatever it takes to protect the gambling bosses.”

After King’s announcement, two casinos that had been closed, Country Crossing at Dothan and White Hall Entertainment Center in Lowndes County, announced they would reopen soon. Both had been closed for more than a month to prevent raids by the governor’s task force.

White Hall attorney Collins Pettaway Jr. said the gambling hall is aiming to reopen at noon Wednesday. Country Crossing spokesman Jay Walker said the opening date is still being determined because it will take a few days to recall employees and restock restaurants.

The legal battle over Alabama’s electronic bingo casino has come down to what will be a courtroom confrontation between the attorney general and Gov. Bob Riley, who appointed King to the job in 2004. Riley and Tyson argue that electronic bingo machines are illegal slot machines, while King said that should be determined by several court cases he intends to bring.

King said he is using his authority as the state’s top law officer to assume control, remove Tyson and ask that all evidence collected by the task force be turned over within 24 hours. King said it was time to end attempts by the task force to conduct pre-dawn raids of casinos without search warrants.

“Rather than finding a path to a peaceful resolution of this issue, the actions of the task force led to the threat of an armed confrontation between law enforcement agencies so that the law enforcement family now finds itself divided into armed camps,” King said at a news conference.

Democratic Sen. Bobby Singleton, one of several Greene County officials who had vowed to block a raid on Greenetrack in Greene County if the task force had no search warrant, said he welcomed King’s decision.

“It gives a lot of relief to the industry and a lot of relief to the families about their jobs,” he said.

Tyson, who’s also district attorney in Mobile, said the attorney general has no authority to take over or stop raids.

“If the attorney general gets his way, then the only thing that will be assured is that the illegal slot machines casinos will get to stay open for months and months as the gambling bosses drag out the litigation that the attorney general says he is going to bring,” Tyson said.

If the machines are found to be illegal, King said the task force will shut down electronic bingo games at Victoryland in Shorter, the state’s largest casino with more than 6,000 machines, as well as others. But he said it will give a monopoly to the electronic games operated by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians in Atmore, Wetumpka and Montgomery because federal law allows them on Indian lands.

King said he will file for court judgments on the legality of electronic bingo machines that have been operating in non-Indian gambling halls in Macon, Lowndes, Jefferson, Houston and Greene counties. Leading his efforts will be Montgomery attorney Douglas McElvy, a former president of the Alabama State Bar.

King’s announcement came about the same time a Macon County judge was issuing a new order barring the governor’s task force from raiding the Victoryland casino. The casino reopened March 5 when Circuit Judge Tom Young issued an order temporarily blocking a raid. That order expired Monday, and the judge issued a new one that extends indefinitely.

Young issued the order at the request of Macon County’s sheriff and district attorney, who said Tyson and the task force were usurping their authority to enforce electronic bingo laws in the central Alabama county.