Florala bingo plans still in works, paper bingo to begin in fall

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 1, 2010

As state officials ponder the next step in the Greentrack electronic bingo battle, Florala officials are awaiting the outcome of the November general election before proceeding with plans to bring the gaming industry to Covington County.

Wednesday, the governor’s gambling task force was ordered out of the Eutaw casino by a circuit judge who earlier halted a raid of the electronic bingo operation.

Task Force Commander John Tyson said Wednesday that the task force is complying with the order and also has returned to Greenetrack some of the equipment seized Tuesday following an Alabama Supreme Court ruling. That ruling, which was issued Monday, allowed for the seizure of 822 electronic bingo machines.

Tyson said the task force is appealing to the Supreme Court to strike down Circuit Judge Eddie Hardaway’s order halting the raid and a later order to vacate the premises.

For Florala, news of the seizure at one of the state’s two non-Indian casino still operating in Alabama – Victoryland in Macon County remains open – hasn’t deterred the city in its quest to bring electronic bingo to Covington County.

“Depending on who wins what in November, I do believe bingo is still a future possibility for Florala,” Florala mayor Robert Williamson said.

“Especially based on the current economy, I believe bingo will again be an issue in the next legislative session.

“How it fares will depend on office holders.”

In a Friday debate, Republican gubernatorial runoff candidates Bradley Byrne and Robert Bentley disagreed on the idea of holding a statewide referendum on gambling.

Byrne said he was opposed to a referendum saying the gambling interests would likely prevail in any statewide vote.

On the other hand, Bentley said the only way to “rid this state of gambling is to have a clear vote.”

He further credited the “people of the state…and Christian people” to “vote it down.”

On the Democratic side, gubernatorial candidate Ron Sparks stated, if elected, he would allow for a statewide vote on the measure.

Still, those in Florala itching to win at bingo may soon have an opportunity – albeit a paper-one.

Linda Russell, president of the Florala Historical Society, said the organization hopes to begin paper bingo games in the fall.

The organization, which was granted a paper bingo license in March, signed an agreement in February with a developer in Gulf Shores who has proposed building an entertainment complex in Florala that would include a full-service restaurant, sandwich shop, retail, entertainment venue and hotel.

If the project comes to fruition, it could mean an estimated $10 million in annual revenues spread throughout Covington County, jobs for 1,500 people and an untold amount in sales tax revenue; however, recent legal issues surrounding the concept of electronic bingo statewide has prohibited the developer from going ahead with the project.

As for the paper-bingo games, Russell said the organization will host games inside the historic Depot on Fifth Street.

“Really, bingo has been put on the back burner for (the historical society),” Russell said.

“The summer has been so busy for us with the Depot rented out nearly every weekend, we haven’t had time to get into (bingo). Right now, there’s not enough help and everyone’s on vacation.

“When we start, we want it to be a success,” she said.

No specific start date for the paper bingo games have been set; however, those wishing to play now can visit the Andalusia American Legion at 6 p.m. every Tuesday and Friday to play at the only active-licensed paper bingo operation in the county.

A bingo player marks a card with a dauber. Paper bingo will begin in Florala in the fall. | File photo