6/1/2010 - June 2010 SLI Educational Update: Alabama Supreme Court Authorizes Governorís Gambling Task Force to Proceed: End in Sight?
AN EDUCATIONAL UPDATE FROM THE SOUTHEAST LAW INSTITUTE™, INC.
To: SLI Supporters
Date: June 2010
From: A. Eric Johnston
Re: Alabama Supreme Court Authorizes Governor’s Gambling Task Force to Proceed: End in Sight?
On May 21, 2010, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled Governor Bob Riley’s Task Force on Illegal Gambling in Alabama is fully authorized by law. Attorney General Troy King opposed the Task Force, saying only he, as Attorney General, had authority to engage in such law enforcement.
In a lengthy and clearly articulated opinion by Justice Glenn Murdock, the Court held the Governor had authority to appoint the Task Force which is empowered to investigate and prosecute the numerous illegal slot machine electronic bingo operations in this state. The Court said: “ . . . Attorney General King’s argument is that the law governing the Executive Branch is that the Attorney General has absolute power over legal matters . . . . We reject this argument.” Quoting from the Alabama Constitution, the Court held the supreme executive power of the state shall be vested in a chief magistrate, who shall be styled “the Governor of the State of Alabama.”
As the gambling problem in Alabama grew, law enforcement did little. The problem was reaching epidemic proportions. It appeared Alabama would have another “Phenix City.” The Governor decided to act. The Court upheld his decision: “When the Governor determines that, whether due to inaction or inadequate action by the other official, it is necessary for him to act less the law go unenforced, he may act.” The Court said:
“In the present case Governor Riley concluded that the criminal law of Alabama regarding gambling devices and gambling enterprises had gone unenforced in certain counties and that, without action on his part and on the part of those he authorized to act, that law would continue to go unenforced in those counties during Attorney General King’s tenure.”
The original executive order setting up the Task Force was issued in December 2008. It was in response to the proliferation of illegal slot machine electronic gambling, an activity otherwise referred to as “electronic bingo.” This electronic form of gambling began to expand slowly after Attorney General King wrote an informal opinion on December 1, 2004, saying electronic bingo is legal. He had just had a personally conducted tour of VictoryLand by operator Milton McGregor. In that informal opinion, King famously compared traditional bingo to electronic bingo as being the same as writing with a quill pen compared to email.
It was not until King’s former Asistant Attorney General on gambling, then in private law practice, wrote a February 15, 2008 letter to the Houston County Commission explaining their “charitable bingo amendment” gave them authority to, in effect, operate a casino. Following that, there was a virtual explosion of electronic gambling machines in the State of Alabama. The Task Force was formed to combat this illegal and unconstitutional activity. While the Attorney General’s Office did nothing to respond to this unlawful gambling, the Task Force made significant inroads.
During the 2010 regular session of the Alabama Legislature, bills were introduced that would have legalized this otherwise unlawful activity. The legislation failed due to the significant opposition by groups like ALCAP and Citizens for a Better Alabama. The failure of the legislation, therefore, closed off the gamblers’ escape from the investigations and prosecutions by the Task Force.
With the Supreme Court now ruling the Governor’s Task Force has authority to proceed and the Attorney General may not interfere with it, we expect to see the unlawful gambling fully prosecuted. This should result in closing all of the illegal gambling operations in this state. For the 18 counties that have constitutional amendments allowing limited charity bingo, they may return to the traditional paper card bingo which was envisioned by those amendments as approved by the citizens of Alabama. Charity rather than gamblers will benefit.
The net result of these events will be removal of an “industry” from the state which was destroying its proper economic character, as well as the families of its citizens. We are extremely happy with this Supreme Court opinion. We are heartened that the Governor may now proceed with the prosecutions.The gambling moguls in this state have taken millions of dollars unlawfully from its citizens. It is now time for the games to end and the prosecutions to begin.
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