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12/1/2009 - Decebmer 2009 SLI Educational Update - Gambling Update - The Issue Takes On a New Meaning



To: SLI Supporters

Date: December 2009

From: A. Eric Johnston

Re: Gambling Update – The Issue Takes On a New Meaning

The battle lines for the gambling issue in the 2010 regular session of the Alabama Legislature are already being drawn. The Governor’s Task Force on Gambling has produced an Alabama Supreme Court ruling that will be used to eradicate unlawful bingo gambling in Alabama. In response, gamblers are frantic to have a vote of the people which would legalize their gambling.

For many years we have opposed efforts to expand gambling, but there have remained the 18 constitutional amendments permitting charitable bingo. Gamblers have unlawfully used these amendments to operate sophisticated electronic gambling machines. Not long after Attorney General Troy King’s informal opinion of December 1, 2004, that electronic bingo is legal, the use of electronic gambling machines increased until within the last two years there are machines in virtually all of the 18 counties where the amendments permit bingo. In Houston and Etowah Counties, casinos are being built.

Because there was little law enforcement, Governor Bob Riley appointed a task force on gambling. The efforts of the task force culminated on November 13, 2009, with a six-three opinion by the Alabama Supreme Court which significantly restricts bingo. The three dissenting justices argued the decision is not authoritative due to a legal technicality. The six member majority directly addressed the issue and said without equivocation the judgment is authoritative. Contrary to Attorney General King’s assertions, the ruling is not judicial activism, but an interpretation of the Alabama Constitution, which is the lawful duty of the Alabama Supreme Court.

The court’s opinion is binding on all Alabama state courts. The opinion states six characteristics which legally describe bingo. These will make it impossible to play bingo, except in a manner consistent with personal management by the player of his bingo cards, with numbers being called out one at a time, and the player responding “bingo” if there is a match. The machines at VictoryLand, Country Crossing and other places do not fit that criteria.

Following the court’s opinion, Attorney General King said, “We have a clearer test. We do not have a clear test.” He then suggested the state’s district attorneys should decide on how to proceed enforcing the law. He anticipates more litigation over the technology of gambling machines. The court’s definition precludes options for everything but the simplest of devices. No doubt lawyers will try to slow the process, but the end is inevitable. With the state’s highest legal authority issuing a clear opinion, the Attorney General should uphold his constitutional responsibility to enforce criminal statutes. That will bring an immediate end to gambling, if only he will do it.

The Attorney General also said the people should vote on whether there should be legalized gambling, an idea also proposed by Senator Scott Beason and others. What they do not seem to recognize is that it is no longer necessary to vote on the legality of this gambling. It is now illegal. Without a change in the constitution, gamblers will be relegated to traditional bingo. Why roll the dice with a referendum and give gamblers a chance to win back their loss?

On November 11, 2009, a coalition of pro-family organizations in Alabama, wrote legislators requesting their opposition to any constitutional amendment on the legality of gambling. The letter expressed that, “A simple up and down vote would be so heavily funded by pro-gambling interests that Alabama voters would be duped into a false security. Subtle and complex strategies would have laid a trap for the demise of any opportunity Alabama would have to avoid unlimited gambling in this state.”

The letter predicted that, “We believe the Alabama Supreme Court will uphold and enforce Alabama’s historic public policy and criminal statutes.” That is exactly what the Supreme Court did.

We are encouraged by the Supreme Court’s ruling. However, it intensifies the battle over gambling in Alabama. There will be a new dynamic this year. Gamblers are not trying to expand, but simply want back what they have lost. Expect the 2010 regular session to be dominated by an effort to get gambling on the ballot. The good people of Alabama do not have the resources to fight the multimillion dollar campaigns of desperate gamblers. Gamblers in Ohio spent almost $35 million several weeks ago to legalize gambling in that state. Ronnie Gilley and friends have invested $87 million in Country Crossing and Milton McGregor has just completed a 300 room luxury hotel, all based on the operation of illegal slot machines. Because gamblers in Alabama are losing their empire, we expect them to sweeten Alabama’s pot far more than was done in Ohio.

There are two issues. The first is that there must be criminal law enforcement resulting from the Supreme Court’s ruling. Second, voters must not be tricked into believing that it is necessary to vote on the legality of gambling in Alabama. That has been decided.

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