Riley to pick Greene Co. sheriff; casino at risk

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 14, 2010

EUTAW, Ala. (AP) — Gov. Bob Riley could determine the future of Greenetrack, the state’s only major non-Indian casino that his gambling task force hasn’t raided or tried to raid.

Riley is considering who to appoint as Greene County sheriff, a post with duties that include regulating the electronic bingo machines at the casino in Eutaw.

Riley said his staff interviewed some interested people last week, and he expects to pick a replacement soon for Sheriff Ison Thomas, who died April 3 of cancer.

Thomas had contended the bingo machines at Greenetrack were legal and warned the task force not to attempt a raid.

The governor contends Alabama law doesn’t allow bingo to be played in rapid-fire fashion on the machines, which he calls illegal slot machines.

Greenetrack offers electronic bingo machines and pari-mutuel wagering on simulcast horse and dog races. The track, which has about 400 employees, is the county’s largest private employer.

On Monday night, about 200 people gathered at Greenetrack to encourage Riley and his task force to stay away from the casino.

“We’ve always tried to find ways out of poverty,” County Commission Chairman William Johnson said. “But if it closes, it will put us back in it.”

The County Commission is asking that Riley let the county coroner, Ronald K. Smith, remain as acting sheriff. If Riley makes an appointment, the new sheriff would serve only a few months because the sheriff’s office is up for election.

Two Democrats, former Sheriff Johnny Issac and retired state trooper Joe Nathan Benison, meet in the primary June 1. There are no Republican candidates.