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Last updateMon, 01 Sep 2014 7am

A Secret Supreme Court Vote Leads to Raid of VictoryLand


By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY—Two early morning press releases from the office of Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange announced the movement of dramatic events in the world of eBingo on Tuesday.
The first press release received at 8:00 AM announced that the Attorney General had filed a lawsuit to, “stop the operation of slot machines at casinos owned by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, (PCI).”  The second release was received at 9:01AM announcing the raid on VictoryLand casino in Macon County by law enforcement agents from the Attorney General’s Office and the Alabama Department of Public Safety.
In a world where politics, law and gambling collide, the first strike by the AG’s Office was made against tribal owned casinos. This seems to have been because McGregor’s super attorney Joe Espy had successfully argued during the ABC hearing that if eBingo was legal for the PCI then it was legal for VictoryLand.
It is believed that the  AG’s office needed to make a case that it was fighting the Indians and not just McGregor. Most within the State House on Tuesday, saw the suit against the Indian casinos as window dressing for the raid on VictoryLand. The political class understood that the first domino had to fall even though it was meaningless.
On Tuesday the Governor said he was informed on Saturday by Strange of his plans to raid VictoryLand. The facts around the conversation between the Governor and the AG still remain clouded.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Tuesday’s raid was the fact that the Attorney General’s office had to shop their search warrant all the way to the Alabama Supreme Court.
After being compelled by the Supreme Court to sign the VictoryLand search warrant Macon County Circuit Judge Tom Young hand wrote on the warrant, "Based on the conflict in information known to this court at this time, I do not believe that this application for a search warrant provides sufficient probable cause. One month ago, based on this information, I declined to issue the warrant and the Criminal Court of Appeals supported the decision when they denied the Attorney General's first writ of mandamus, by unanimous decision. No new information has been provided to this date. The Supreme Court has now issued to this Court a Writ of Mandamus requiring the Court to sign the same warrant, despite this Court's opinion that it is improper according to the law. This Court will, as always, follow the mandates of the Supreme Court, although, it does so with the greatest judicial reluctance.”
Within the last month the Macon Count Court did not find probable cause, neither did the Criminal Court of Appeals, yet the Supreme Court found something that other justices did not.
A request for informations as to the names of the Supreme Court Justices who voted to compelled Judge Young to sign the search warrant and the vote count on the court was denied by the Supreme Court information office with a simple reply, “At this time we are unable to provide the information you requested.”
It seems outrageous that the court would deny the public the right to know who voted and how they voted.
A secret vote to force a sitting circuit court judge to sign a warrant seems to undercut the notion of equal justice and transparency.
In a written statement to the press McGregor Attorney Espy said, “Last year, a federal judge found as a matter of law that opponents of legal bingo are motivated by partisan politics and race. Today’s actions prove that they will do anything to try to impose their politics on the state. They ignore our laws and rules, trample on the rights of law-abiding citizens and businesses.”
The people who depend on VictoryLand for their livelihood are devastated while at the PCI casinos it is business as usual. It begs the question, if the Indians should have their day in court why not VictoryLand?
The silence of the Attorney General’s Office leaves grave concerns, The secrecy of the Alabama Supreme Court calls into question the entire affair.
Nearly a month ago a hearing by the state’s ABC Board was held to determine if the casino portion of VictoryLand should be granted a ABC license. This hearing set the stage for Tuesday’s showdown.
During the 8 hour trial, Deputy Attorney General Sonny Reagan argued that the gaming machines at VictoryLand were in fact slot machines which are illegal in Alabama.
Attorney’s for Milton McGregor, made the case that the machines were not slots but eBingo games and therefore would not be illegal under state law.
Another part of the ABC hearing focused on eBingo machines that are played at PCI casinos throughout the state, where  ABC licenses have been granted.
At the time of the hearing it was stated by the head of the commission Joe Adams that if the machines at the PCI casinos were illegal then they should not have a ABC license. Deputy AG Reagan argued they were in fact the machines were illegal.
At the conclusion of the hearing the ABC Board did not make a ruling saying that judgement would be forth coming in approximately 15 days. The raid on VictoryLand happened all most two weeks after the ABC Board deadline in which they said they would rule on the VictoryLand ABC license.
Just days after the ABC hearing the Alabama Christian Coalition wrote a letter to Luther Strange saying, “we encourage you to combat gambling at the Indian casinos as vigorously as your efforts at the dog tracks. One immediate opportunity is to ask the ABC Board to not issue liquor licenses to Indian gambling entities on the same basis as not issuing liquor licenses to the dog tracks.”
However, the AG’s office has not sought to over turn the ABC license but instead on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against the tribe.
Espy said on Tuesday, “The lawsuit against the Poarch Creek Indian casino...is a smokescreen and a waste of taxpayer money.  As he [Luther Strange] knows, the Alabama Attorney General has no jurisdiction over Native American gaming.”
The Governor has said in the past that he would like to see the issue of gambling settled by the courts and not by raids. While the Governor has made his opposition to gambling clear he has also said that he would like to see the matter resolved by a vote of the people. Tuesday’s raid at VictoryLand has left these options in limbo.

TAGS: VictoryLand, Milton McGregor, Luther Strange, PCI, Sonny Reagan, Robert Bentley, Bingo, gambling

 

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