By Chip Brownlee
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—Standing on the attorney general’s office steps Tuesday afternoon, Southern Christian Leadership Conference officials and other GreeneTrack Casino supporters demanded a meeting with Attorney General Luther Strange to discuss their pending Alabama Supreme Court Case and the future of gaming in Greene County.
The Eutaw, Alabama, gaming center filed a brief before the Alabama Supreme Court last month in an appeal over the facility’s electronic bingo machines. Greenetrack argues the Attorney General is asking the Supreme Court to overstep its boundaries.
“This Court has long cautioned against the very thing that the State now asks this Court to engage in: judicial activism,” attorneys for Greenetrack wrote. “Alabama law is crystal clear that a court is not free to rewrite a constitutional provision or substitute its own judgment or moral musings for that of the Legislature and the people of Alabama — even in matters involving bingo.”
Today, SCLC President Dr. Charles Steele Jr., State Sen. Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro) and GreeneTrack CEO Luther Wynn spoke to a small crowd on Strange’s doorstep. The SCLC — a civil rights organization founded by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — has taken on GreeneTrack’s dispute with the State government as an opportunity to launch their “Poor People’s Campaign,” which they hope will uplift impoverished communities across Alabama and the US.
They’re starting with gambling in Greene County.
“We have come back to Montgomery because of the injustices we see in Greene County and throughout the rest of Alabama,” Steele said. “We’re very concerned about Attorney General Strange. He has been insensitive to the needs of economic development in West Alabama and the Black Belt. That’s why the SCLC is in existence. We’re about jobs and justice and equality for all God’s children.”
The case is not about gaming, Steele said. It is about the attorney general’s repeated attempts to prevent economic development in Greene County — a heavily African American county in the State’s Black Belt Region — by going down hard on GreeneTrack and its gaming operation.
“We’ve come back to let Attorney General Strange know that we’re not going to sit idly by and let economic development go,” Steele said. “We’re proud of GreeneTrack in West Alabama, providing jobs and education for the people there.”
In their November Supreme Court brief, Greenetrack argued that Amendment 743 of the Alabama Constitution, which passed in 2003, authorizes the use and play of electronic bingo in Greene County. The Attorney General’s office said the machines were not in compliance with the amendment.
Singleton, who represents Greene County and portions of other Black Belt counties, said he hopes Strange will change his tune and meet with the men to discuss GreeneTrack in terms of economic development for Greene County.
“In Greene County, we saw this as an economic development piece,” Singleton said. “This is not about gaming to us. This is about quality of life for people who live in Greene County. We, the people of Greene County, made our voices heard in a Constitutional Amendment — the highest law in the state of Alabama. The people stated, knowing what they were doing, that they wanted to bring electronic bingo to the area.”
The State filed an appeal on June 27 after Circuit Judge Houston Brown ruled the State improperly seized GreeneTrack’s bingo machines in a 2010 raid. Brown said the State failed to prove the 825 bingo machines were illegal under Alabama law and that they had to return the machines within 30 days of his June 22 ruling.
“The State of Alabama later came and illegally shut us down,” Singleton said. “We believe, fundamentally, that that is wrong. We’re here to say to Attorney General strange that we just want to sit down with you. Talk to you. … We think that the path that you’ve taken has been wrong. You’ve wronged the people of the State of Alabama, and more specifically the people of Greene County.”
Attorney General Luther Strange said Tuesday that the State would continue litigating the case because Alabama law prohibits gambling.
“The Attorney General is responsible for enforcing State law including the prohibition of illegal gambling,” Strange said. “After it was determined that GreeneTrack was operating electronic bingo machines in violation of the law, the Attorney General’s Office took the casino operators to court to determine their legality.”
The Supreme Court doesn’t have the authority to rewrite State constitutional amendments, attorneys for Greenetrack have said. The speakers today reiterated those statements. Amendment 743 is the only amendment to the Alabama Constitution that specifically defines bingo and bingo equipment, and it applies only to Greene County, they said.
But Strange said the voters would need to approve a new amendment to legalize GreeneTrack’s machines because the State believes the casino’s current machines are not in compliance with Amendment 743.
“The case is currently awaiting a final ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court,” Strange said. “If the voters of Greene County disagree with the Alabama Supreme Court or want to legalize new forms of gambling, then they should direct their concerns to the Governor and the Legislature to have the law clarified or changed.”
The SCLC and the other GreeneTrack supporters still believe the current amendment legalizing bingo in Greene County covers GreeneTrack’s machines, Wynn said.
“We voted for and passed legislation in Greene County to allow for electronic bingo,” Wynn said. “It’s a clear definition. Our legislation gives a clear definition to electronic bingo. It’s the only amendment passed in the State that defines bingo. For Strange to go to the Supreme Court in search of a definition, that causes us to have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to try to fight that. It’s wrong for GreeneTrack, and it’s wrong for the State of Alabama.”
Steele, Wynn and Singleton said Strange’s continued opposition to gaming in majority-black communities stems from ever-present racism and classism.
“It’s nothing but right out, blatant racism and classism,” Steele said. “Dr. King fought both of them. We have more racism and classism today than we had 50 years ago, and we shouldn’t be like that. … If you help Greene County, you help the world. … It would give them hope, as well as the opportunity to have jobs and provide for their families. What more can you ask for?”
West Alabama and the Black Belt counties are the poorest in the State and some of the poorest communities in the country, Singleton said. And the State has forgotten those communities, he said.
“We have not gotten economic development,” Singleton said. “We have a governor from West Alabama, but when we talk to the Department of Commerce about bringing jobs to that area, they’re just not coming. So we made legislation to create an industry for ourselves. We’re pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps. This is not about gaming. It’s about economic development. When they shut us down, they sent us the food stamp and welfare trucks the very next day.
“Instead of sending us jobs to replace these, they sent us another social aide. We don’t want the aid. We want to work. We want our people to work and not depend on the system.”
The State, including the all-white Supreme Court and the white attorney general, wouldn’t try to oppose economic development or gaming like GreeneTrack if they were in Shelby County or Baldwin County, Wynn said.
“They don’t need Greene County or West Alabama to get elected to that office, so they pass us off,” Wynn said. “This amendment is the only one that’s being challenged. You have all kind of amendments to the constitution. Bob Riley was bought off by the Mississippi Indians. Bob Riley brought in and supported Luther Strange. You ask if it is about racism? It’s the only constitutional amendment being challenged. It’s the ones in the black counties like Greene County, Macon County, Lowndes County. You decide if it’s racism.”
1. BINGO – That specific kind of game commonly known as bingo in which prizes are awarded on the basis of designated numbers or symbols on a card or electronic marking machine conforming to numbers or symbols selected at random.
2. EQUIPMENT – The receptacle and numbered objects drawn from it, the master board upon which such objects are placed as drawn, the cards or sheets bearing numbers or other designations to be covered and the objects used to cover them or electronic card marking machines, and the board or signs, however operated, used to announce or display the numbers or designations as they are drawn.