Task force asks judge to allow Victoryland raid

Published 10:13 pm Monday, August 2, 2010

MONTGOMERY (AP) — The governor’s task force on gambling took legal steps Monday to raid or close Victoryland, the state’s largest and last private bingo casino in operation. But both major party candidates for governor saying they will dismantle the task force, Victoryland and other casinos may not be shut down for long.

Task force commander John Tyson filed a motion Monday for Macon County Circuit Judge Tom Young to lift his ban on a task force raid, as ordered by the Alabama Supreme Court in a ruling Friday.

But while Tyson and Gov. Bob Riley have viewed the Supreme Court’s decision as a victory, a new governor will take office Jan. 17.

The Republican nominee, state Rep. Robert Bentley, and the Democrat, Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks, both said the task force’s days are numbered.

“As governor I would not continue the task force. A true up-or-down vote of the people on this issue would settle this once and for all. Our top priority should be putting Alabamians back to work,” Bentley said in a statement after the court ruled Friday.

“I will put John Tyson out of work just like he put thousands of Alabama workers out of work,” Sparks said Monday. “On my inauguration day I will fire John Tyson, disband the task force and call for a special session to reopen every bingo casino in Alabama immediately.”

While Bentley and Sparks agree on calling for a statewide vote on gambling, they disagree on what they want to ask the voters.

Bentley wants to give the voters the option of outlawing all forms of gambling in Alabama, including horse racing, dog racing and paper bingo, which are legal under constitutional amendments in some counties. Sparks does not.

“Robert Bentley has called gaming ‘a cancer’ and I believe it is a way to raise billions of dollars for our school kids and our seniors. I will fight to allow gaming in Alabama. Robert Bentley will fight to eliminate gaming from Alabama,” Sparks said.

Tyson said if Young grants the motion to lift his stay, the task force could immediately raid Victoryland, which has more than 6,000 electronic bingo machines. It’s the only non-Indian casino still operating.

Riley’s press secretary, Todd Stacy, said if the new governor disbands the task force, it will be up to the new attorney general, either Democratic candidate James Anderson or Republican Luther Strange, to enforce the law concerning electronic bingo. Stacy said Riley created the task force because current Attorney General Troy King wouldn’t take action against the electronic bingo games.

“The task force is working to ensure Alabama’s laws against illegal gambling are enforced fairly, impartially and equally in every part of our state. It’s frightening to believe we could have a governor who won’t uphold and enforce the law. It makes you wonder what other laws they have decided they won’t enforce,” Stacy said.

But an Alabama Supreme Court ruling in May gave the governor the power to trump the attorney general on legal issues such as gambling.

The court 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.

Tyson, who is also the district attorney in Mobile County, said Monday he doesn’t expect the task force to continue after Riley leaves office. “I work for Riley,” he said.

The Supreme Court, in an earlier ruling concerning electronic bingo games at a casino at White Hall in Lowndes County, set up a test to determine if the game being played at a casino is a legal form of bingo. Anderson said if he’s elected attorney general he will seek a ruling from the Supreme Court on whether the bingo being played at Alabama casinos passes that test.

“The issue needs to be resolved. I’m going to follow what the court says,” Anderson said.

Strange said there shouldn’t have been a need for the task force.

“This is a job for the attorney general,” Strange said. “As attorney general I would continue to make sure the law is being enforced.”