Victoryland owner hopes to reopen by Christmas

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — VictoryLand owner Milton McGregor hopes to have his casino reopened by Christmas despite an Alabama Supreme Court order allowing the state to keep seized gambling machines, his lawyer said Wednesday.

McGregor’s attorney, Joe Espy, said the casino’s reopening will hinge on the ability to obtain new electronic bingo machines, but he believes VictoryLand will be able to do that.

“He is hoping that he can reopen by Christmas so people can have jobs,” Espy said.

The Alabama Supreme Court on Monday stayed a judge’s order directing the state to return the devices. However, Espy said VictoryLand workers were doubtful that those machines would have worked anyway if returned.

The state has been in a long-running legal battle over the slot machine look-alikes. The attorney general’s office has argued that the machines, which feature swirling electronic displays and chiming sounds, are illegal. Casino operators have argued, however, that the digital displays are just for entertainment. They said the machines’ internal workings play bingo and are allowed under state law.

The attorney general’s office seized 1,615 electronic bingo machines and $260,000 in cash during a 2013 raid at VictoryLand in Macon County.

Montgomery Circuit Judge William Shashy dismissed the case, however, and ordered the state to return the machines by Nov. 16. Shashy said it was unfair to close one casino when others remained open. The state Supreme Court on Monday stayed the order to return the machines.

Gambling equipment manufacturers typically lease the devices to casinos, meaning they could see their property seized if the state raided a gambling facility. Espy said he believes recent legal developments, including Shashy’s order, will make manufacturers willing to put their machines back in the state.

Espy acknowledged the attorney general’s office could try to seize the new machines, but said there would be a legal fight if the state attempted another raid.

“If he comes and raids us and he allows those (other casinos) to continue to operate, there’s going to be a real problem,” Espy said.

Alabama justices have twice ruled against similar machines. In rulings arising from cases against casinos in Lowndes and Houston counties, the justices said bingo requires active player participation, with numbers being announced, marking cards and a player claiming a win.

VictoryLand attorneys have argued, however, that voters knew machine bingo was allowed when they voted for the constitutional amendment in 2003 allowing bingo in that county.

Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange’s office is appealing Shashy’s dismissal of the state’s civil case against VictoryLand.

Strange, in a statement last week, said he expected the pending litigation “to further clarify the law to the benefit of state and local law enforcement.”

Gov. Robert Bentley last week signed an executive order saying he preferred that local sheriffs and district attorneys handle gambling law enforcement.

Espy said he believed the governor’s order was an acknowledgement that the state’s actions were unfair.

(Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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