4/2/2012 - April 2012 SLI Educational Update - "I;ll Have Much More to Say Later . . . " Milton McGregor, The Birmingham News, March 11, 2012
AN EDUCATIONAL UPDATE FROM
THE SOUTHEAST LAW INSTITUTE™, INC.
To: SLI Supporters
Date: April 2012
From: A. Eric Johnston
Re: “I’ll Have Much More to Say Later . . .” Milton McGregor
The Birmingham News, March 11, 2012
For over two decades Alabama politics has dealt with gambling. Annual efforts in the Alabama Legislature were as sure as the coming of winter. From video poker to video bingo, the gamblers tried to expand their business. This came to a head in 2010 when gamblers were desperate to legalize their unlawful games due to Governor Bob Riley’s Task Force aggressively prosecuting them and seizing their machines. The gamblers’ legislative goal was to exempt themselves from all games of chance by law. What they were seeking was no less than an amendment to the Alabama Constitution, thereby making them a law unto themselves. Then, in the midst of this, the U.S. Department of Justice announced it was investigating corruption in the statehouse. Ultimately a federal grand jury indicted gamblers, legislators, lobbyists and others.
The results of these are several. The legislative efforts to legalize gambling failed. The Task Force closed down most of the gambling facilities. The Alabama Supreme Court reached a landmark decision and defined permitted gambling to be mere simple bingo. The Justice Department lost its criminal cases and all the defendants were found not guilty. Also, during this time, the Alabama Democrat Legislature lost leadership to Republicans. The Creek Indians capitalized on their newly enriched gambling monopoly. And the question we must ask now: Is gambling still an issue in Alabama?
The short answer is yes. Gambling is like cancer. You treat it, you fight it, but it returns. After gambling leader Milton McGregor was found not guilty, he took out full page ads in Alabama newspapers concluding with: “I’ll have more to say later . . .” His lawyer, Joe Espy, said: “Milton McGregor wants to get VictoryLand open.” So, we cannot rest upon our incomplete laurels. We must not kid ourselves that it is over. However, we must not underestimate the importance of our successes.
The most significant success is the Cornerstone court opinion which limits bingo, the only game of chance permitted in Alabama, to the simple game that we always thought it was. However, the gamblers even now continue to operate with “machines” they claim are not illegal slot machines and as a result, law enforcement must renew its efforts to pursue these criminals. Gamblers have incentive to push the limits because with a few days of operation thousands, even millions of dollars can be made. They can change their machines a little each time and then reopen. Possession of slot machines is only a misdemeanor, not serious enough for jail time.
We are fortunate to have Attorney General Luther Strange. He is principled and committed to carrying out the effort to eradicate gambling in Alabama. We have a legislature led by men and women opposed to gambling who will not entertain legislation to legalize, but to the contrary will work to stop it. For example, pending bill HB414, by Representative Allen Farley, would make it a felony to possess illegal slot machines. This means jail time. No worry of complicated and difficult federal laws, just plain criminal prosecution. We encourage passage of HB414. We encourage the Attorney General to prosecute. We encourage Governor Robert Bentley to support criminal prosecutions, rather than seeking declaratory judgments in civil courts – a method sure to work to the gamblers’ benefits.
The problem is that Milton McGregor is back. He led the legislative and legal efforts to expand gambling before and will doubtless do so again. He won the high stakes federal criminal trial. We have the best justice system in the world, but it is not perfect. We believe unfortunate factors of court, prosecutors and jury resulted in some criminals getting away with it, while others, who pled guilty and helped the prosecution, are going to prison. Good men like Scott Beason and Benjamin Little stood up for principle and paid the price. According to The Birmingham News, Milton McGregor’s lawyer “told the majority African American jury that the prosecution’s case was based on ‘political manipulations, racists and crooks.’” Obviously politics was involved – but who, in reality, are the racists and crooks?
Some of the defendants have their lives back and we pray God has given them a good lesson. They have said as much and we do not expect them to make the same mistake twice. But, we must gird ourselves for renewed efforts to bring justice to gamblers in this state, including Indians who seemingly have escaped the eye of the law. Many tax dollars are unfortunately, but necessarily, used on prosecuting the criminals. As a civilized society we are committed to proper law and order. The profits the gamblers make are from those who can least afford it, but the real damage is to the fabric of our society, which is priceless.
If the Legislature strengthens our criminal laws, gamblers will think twice about carrying on their unlawful trade, regardless of the profit. The Attorney General is in a good position to renew prosecution of those who attempt to reopen using the illegal slot machines. We have laid the legal basis for limiting gambling in Alabama for anyone. We expect a U.S. Supreme Court opinion in early summer which will allow government and private party lawsuits against the Indians to limit their gambling to simple bingo. Regardless of what Mr. McGregor and others say, we will have the final word. "I'll
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