The Alabama Supreme Court has issued the final say on a years-long legal dispute regarding the legality of electronic bingo machines in the state off of tribal lands.
The state’s highest court says electronic bingo machines, which closely mimic traditional Las Vegas-style slot machines, constitute illegal gambling and represent a “public nuisance” when they’re located inside commercial businesses.
The Alabama Supreme Court agreed to review a 2017 lawsuit brought against three electronic bingo casinos by Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall (R). Lower circuit courts had refused to approve Marshall’s requests for injunctive relief ordering the Southern Star, White Hall, and VictoryLand casinos to suspend their operations.
The casinos argued that since the revenue generated by the electronic bingo machines goes to charity, the devices constitute charitable gaming, which is legal for qualifying nonprofits in the state. But Marshall contended that the casinos’ electronic gaming terminals do not meet the standards of what the legislature sought to legalize in 1980 when the charitable bingo law was passed.
Marshall has been contending for years that the more than 1,000 electronic bingo machines found in the three casinos are unlicensed gaming apparatuses. The casinos said they’re adhering to Alabama’s charitable bingo laws, and that ruling the machines obsolete would cause “irreparable harm and damages that could equal to millions of dollars.”
The casinos claim hundreds of jobs will be lost by deeming electronic bingo at the three casinos unlawful. Charities and nonprofits will suffer, too, the casinos warn.
But the Alabama Supreme Court was unanimous in its 7-0 decision that VictoryLand, White Hall, and Southern Star are operating unlawful gambling.
The Macon Circuit Court and the Lowndes Circuit Court erroneously denied or exceeded their discretion in denying the State’s request in each case for injunctive relief prohibiting the Macon County defendants and Lowndes County defendants from continuing to engage in the illegal gambling activities at issue,” the court ruling said.
The state Supreme Court directive ordered the Macon and Lowndes circuit courts to order the cessation of electronic bingo operations at the three casinos within 30 days of the ruling. The Supreme Court issued its verdict in an opinion dated September 30.
Win for AG, Tribe
Marshall celebrated the state Supreme Court ruling, an effort that’s plagued his office for more than a half-decade.
“The Alabama Supreme Court’s opinion makes clear what my office has maintained from the start: these gambling enterprises are not only patently illegal under Alabama law, but also a menace to public health, morals, safety, and welfare,” Marshall declared. “Today’s decision will forbid the Southern Star, White Hall, and VictoryLand casinos from offering their slot-machine gambling to the public.”
The ruling will likely also benefit the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, the only federally recognized tribe in Alabama. Though the state has refused to enter into a Class III gaming compact to allow the tribe’s three casinos to operate slots and house-banked table games like blackjack, craps, and roulette, the tribe’s federal recognition allows it to run bingo-based Class II electronic games on its sovereign land.
In Alabama, the Poarch Creek Indians own and operate Wind Creek Atmore, Wind Creek Montgomery, and Wind Creek Wetumpka. Combined, the three tribal casinos offer around 5,900 electronic bingo machines.
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