Alabama Supreme Court rules for state in bingo cases

Gambling machine raid

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) – The Alabama Supreme Court, in a decision unsealed Tuesday, again sided with the state’s attorney general in attempts to shut down electronic bingo casinos in Greene County.

The decision required Greene County District Judge Lillie Jones-Osborne to approve subpoenas that Attorney General Luther Strange’s office used to raid four gambling halls in the west Alabama county on Monday.

Jones-Osborne had initially denied the attorney general’s request for search warrants. She based her decision on a 2011 order from Circuit Judge Houston Brown that had directed the state attorney general to return electronic gambling machines seized from Greene County casinos in raids in 2011.

The attorney general’s office has maintained the electronic bingo machines, which resemble slot machines, are not allowed by constitutional amendments allowing charities to offer bingo in some Alabama counties. Casino operators say the machines are electronic versions of the traditional game played on paper cards.

The Supreme Court’s 62-page decision said the 2011 decision by Brown was incorrect, as was Jones-Osborne’s denial of the search warrants.

The Supreme Court said even though Greene County has a constitutional amendment allowing bingo that is worded differently from other constitutional amendments permitting bingo in other counties, the constitutional amendment still applies to the traditional game of bingo, where players mark their cards and announce their wins.

The Supreme Court waited until after the raids to unseal its decision. Meanwhile, Jones-Osborne sought to distance herself from what happened.

In a statement, Jones-Osborne said she signed warrants for the raids on orders from the Supreme Court.

“But please know that I have never been a willing participant in the Greene County raids,” said the statement. Jones-Osborne said she is up for re-election in June, and voters shouldn’t be swayed by “smoke screens, schemes, plans and politics.”

Jones-Osborne said she lives in Greene County and is sad that people are out of work after state officers seized more than 1,000 electronic bingo machines in the west Alabama county.

Officers served search warrants on four bingo operations in Greene County, the latest move in a long-running dispute over the legality of electronic gambling machines in Alabama.

Greene County commissioners have publicly supported the bingo halls. They say some 1,100 people are out of work, and public and private groups are losing money because lost gaming revenue will result in reduced donation amounts from the bingo halls.

While the attorney general has been successful in shutting down privately operated casinos, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, which is under federal regulation, continues to operate large casinos in Atmore, Montgomery and Wetumpka. Its casinos have electronic games, but no table games.

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