Alabama governor to AG: Forget about task force takeover

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 24, 2010

MONTGOMERY (AP) — Alabama’s governor sent a terse message to the attorney general Tuesday: You can’t take over the Governor’s Task Force on Illegal Gambling or fire its commander.

“The attorney general has no authority to tell the Task Force on Illegal Gambling what to do,” Gov. Bob Riley said at a news conference.

King announced Monday that he was using his authority as attorney general to take over the Governor’s Task Force on Illegal Gambling and dismiss John Tyson as commander. King said he had to act because the task force’s 14 months of work had created lots of confusion, but no resolution to the legality of electronic bingo casinos in Alabama.

King said he planned to file court cases that would provide a state Supreme Court ruling on electronic bingo without the use of pre-dawn raids on casinos.

Riley said Tuesday he was “completely blindsided” and “really disappointed” by King’s announcement.

The attorney general’s chief of staff, Chris Bence, said it shouldn’t have been a surprise because Riley had made it clear in two meetings with the attorney general that he was not flexible about how to seek court rulings on electronic bingo.

Now it will be up to the Alabama Supreme Court to decide whether Riley or King emerges with the power.

Riley employed King as his legal adviser until appointing him attorney general in 2004. The once-cordial relationship now consists of critical news conferences and prepared statements.

After King’s decision Monday, two casinos announced they would reopen after being closed for more than a month to prevent raids by the governor’s task force.

Country Crossing in Dothan will reopen its electronic bingo games at 8 a.m. Wednesday and other attractions, including the bed and breakfast inn and two restaurants, throughout the day, spokesman Jay Walker said.

White Hall Entertainment Center in Lowndes County had originally hoped to reopen at noon Wednesday, but attorney Collins Pettaway Jr. said it will be next week before the machines can be rechecked and employees recalled.

King said that if the governor’s task force would turn over evidence it had collected, his office would use it to seek court rulings “that would prohibit the reopening of White Hall and Country Crossing and allow us to seek to close those facilities that the governor has left open or allowed to reopen.”

“If we turned the evidence over to the attorney general, we might as well turn it over to the casino bosses,” Riley said.

Victoryland in Macon County, Greenetrack in Greene County, and several small gambling halls in Jefferson County are open, as are three Creek Indian casinos that are not regulated by the state.

At the Legislature on Tuesday, Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, showed his colleagues a revised version of his bill to tax and regulate electronic bingo games, but he said he had not decided when he will ask the Senate to consider it. Bedford’s original bill specified 10 sites for electronic bingo casinos. His new bill leaves it up to the Legislature to make those decisions later.