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5/1/2008 - May 2008 SLI Educational Update - VictoryLand - More Than a Name

AN EDUCATIONAL UPDATE FROM

THE SOUTHEAST LAW INSTITUTETM, INC.

 

 

To:                  SLI Supporters                                 

 

Date:               May 2008  

 

From:              A. Eric Johnston

 

Re:                  VictoryLand - More Than a Name

 

           

            SLI has been called on continuously over the last weeks to review and analyze gambling bills filed in the Alabama Legislature.  Our analysis have proved invaluable to representatives and senators who have opposed these efforts to expand gambling.  This Update is derived from a legal opinion we provided to Senators and was used as an editorial to The Birmingham News on Sunday, April 27, 2008.

 

            It is not unusual to see a number of gambling bills introduced in the Alabama Legislature.  Year after year, bills are introduced for the purpose of expanding gambling in Alabama.  One of the bills filed in the 2008 Regular Session, SB191, has exceeded our wildest imaginations of greed and avarice.  This bill would make the VictoryLand gambling facility in Macon County an unregulated mecca for gambling. 

 

            To understand how SB191 would work, we must understand the nature of gambling in Alabama.  Title IV, Section 65 of the 1901 Constitution of Alabama prohibits games of chance.  The Alabama Supreme Court has ruled that in order not to be classified as a game of chance, there must be a significant degree of skill involved.  For example, the Supreme Court has held that pari-mutuel wagering on dog and horse racing involves sufficient skill to remove it from the Section 65 prohibition.  If any game of chance is permitted, it can only be permitted by another amendment to the Alabama Constitution.

 

            Consequently, 18 different bingo amendments to the Alabama Constitution have passed since 1980.  In the beginning, the purpose of these was to allow only limited traditional charitable bingo on paper cards in places like churches, fire halls, VFWs, Elks Clubs, etcetera. 

 

            In the 1990s, gamblers tried to get legislation passed which would authorize video poker and other forms of electronic gambling.  These failed.  During this time, the electronic ability of machines was developed to the extent that they might be called "bingo," but in actuality they were high stakes gambling devices.  This is the type of thing that has gone on in several counties.  At this time, law enforcement has not attempted uniform regulation of these unlawful activities in the State of Alabama.

 

            The Alabama Supreme Court has not had a case before it to define bingo.  However, in 2006, the Alabama Supreme Court decided the sweepstakes case in Jefferson County that held the electronic "sweepstakes" machines were actually illegal slot machines.  The handwriting was on the wall for electronic "bingo" machines.

 

            The chief gambler, Milton McGregor, would not need to be prescient to know his Macon County operations would soon be determined illegal.  Therefore, SB191 was introduced.  Among other things, it gives a very broad definition of electronic bingo gambling.  This was in addition to the provisions of the existing Macon County law, which permits operation of charitable bingo not by the usual nonprofits, but by third parties who use nonprofit names.  Also, provisions were proposed that would permit Macon County players to network with offsite locations.  However, even these expansive provisions were not the insidious secret of SB191.

 

            Many days into the debate, Senate opponents of gambling almost fell into the trap of the Substitute for SB191.  All of the references to electronic and offsite links were omitted in an effort to reach a compromise.  However, there remained in the bill a paragraph which would permit, though without saying, the same expanded gambling and make all operations immune from all regulation. 

 

            Paragraph (5) of the Substitute for SB191 stated the conduct of bingo in Macon County shall not be prohibited or limited by (i) the constitutional prohibition of games of chance in Section 65 of the Constitution, (ii) any court opinion defining bingo, (iii) Alabama criminal laws, or (iv) Alabama civil laws.  The secret to this provision is that SB191 calls for a constitutional amendment.  If it passed by a vote of the people, it would have the same authority as the existing Section 65 in the Constitution and would permit games of chance at VictoryLand.  The Supreme Court would be deprived of jurisdiction to render any opinion that would define the electronic bingo as gambling and the gambling operations would not be subject to Alabama criminal laws that prohibit gambling, or civil laws that make contracts to gamble void.  VictoryLand would have achieved total victory over all opposing gambling enterprises in the state and over the ability of the state to regulate what it could do. 

 

            SB191 proposes to do something that has never been done in Alabama law.  It proposes to give a single special interest immunity from the general law of the State of Alabama.  What makes it particularly heinous is that it proposes to give this immunity to a criminal activity.  It is unconscionable to think that the Alabama Legislature has been on the verge of extending this immunity.  If the Legislature will give in to this proposal, what will it do in the future?  This cannot happen and the lesson must be learned.

 

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