Alabama Supreme Court rules for Riley on bingo

Published 8:58 pm Friday, May 21, 2010

MONTGOMERY (AP) — The Alabama Supreme Court blocked the attorney general Friday from taking over the governor’s gambling task force and gave the governor new momentum in his efforts to shut down electronic bingo casinos.

The state’s highest court ruled Friday that Attorney General Troy King can’t assume control over the task force’s challenge of electronic bingo machines at the closed White Hall Entertainment Center in Lowndes County. Riley said the ruling will affect all casinos in the state.

“This ruling should put the nail in the coffin for so-called electronic bingo in this state,” he said.

The Supreme Court rejected the attorney general’s argument that he has absolute power over legal matters involving the interests of the state. Instead, it said the governor has “supreme executive power” over the executive branch of government, including the attorney general.

“If the governor’s ‘supreme executive power’ means anything, it means that when the governor makes a determination that the laws are not being faithfully executed, he can act using the legal means that are at his disposal,” the court said.

“The governor’s task force is free to enforce the laws on illegal gambling from one end of the state to the other,” task force commander John Tyson said.

The court’s ruling wasn’t a determination on the legality of the flashing, Vegas-style machines at the White Hall casino, but it affirms the governor’s ability to enforce gaming laws. The Supreme Court said “the governor’s position that the term bingo is a reference to the game traditionally known as bingo is consistent with at least three appellate decisions.”

Riley created the Governor’s Task Force on Illegal Gambling 1½ years ago because he said the attorney general and some county district attorneys weren’t enforcing gambling laws. He said laws allowing bingo in some counties permitted traditional paper games, not the thousands of electronic games being installed in gambling halls across the state.

The task force raided the White Hall casino, 20 miles west of Montgomery, last year and seized about 100 machines and $500,000 in cash. King criticized the task force’s pre-dawn raid and accused the governor of creating a constitutional crisis by sending armed officers into casinos without the approval of the attorney general or local district attorneys.

King, who was appointed attorney general by Riley in 2004, announced in March that he was taking over the White Hall case and removing Tyson, who’s also Mobile County District Attorney.

Riley and his task force appealed to the Supreme Court. All Supreme Court justices agreed with the outcome Friday, but not all had the same reasoning.

The attorney general’s spokesman, Chris Bence, said King was studying the ruling and would have no comment before Monday.

Bobby Segall, an attorney for the charity that operates the White Hall casino, said the Supreme Court had to overrule one of its previous rulings on the attorney general’s powers in order to issue Friday’s decision.

“The Supreme Court just decided to change the law,” he said.

In addition to the White Hall casino, Country Crossing in Dothan has been closed while the Supreme Court weighed the case. Greenetrack in Eutaw and Victoryland, the state’s largest casino in Shorter, have remained open.

A judge has blocked the task force’s operation in Victoryland’s home county because the district attorney had not approved its actions, but Friday’s ruling gives the governor new legal arguments to challenge the judge.