By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—In a report by the “Montgomery Advertiser,” the ABC board has set January 10 as the date for the hearing on a liquor license at VictoryLand.
Owner Milton McGregor had earlier applied for an ABC license for the eBingo portion of the casino but it was held for a hearing after an intervention by Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange. For the first time in state history the state’s top cop inserted himself openly into a request for an ABC license.
In his letter to the ABC Board, Strange wrote that he was concerned that a liquor license would “perpetuate the kind of criminal gambling activity we have seen in previous iterations of so-called ‘electronic bingo’ at this and other locations.
However, VictoryLand nor its owner McGregor have ever been charged or found guilty with “criminal gambling” activities as alleged in Mr. Strange’s letter. The ABC Board had said they would not issue a license until there was a hearing on the matter.
McGregor’s attorney Joe Espy had requested an expedited hear before the New Year but that was denied.
The hearing before the ABC Board will not have any bearing on the legality of the eBingo machines played at the casino, it only determines if the casino portion of VictoryLand may serve alcohol.
Espy said on December 18, “It’s a question about a license and there is no transparency because once the agency makes a decision you can’t go to court and try your case. It’s strictly a paper case,” said Espy. “You can’t have your experts, you can’t have your extensive discovery, and this has been the idea that the Attorney General has had the entire time, no transparency. We want transparency.”
VictoryLand has a liquor license for the Greyhound section of the facility but not the casino floor where eBingo is played.
The Attorney General’s office has been very reticent to speak with the press, while Espy has offered unlimited access to information about VictoryLand eBingo and plans for the future. Mr. Espy has gone so far as to challenge AG Strange to a joint press conference. This occurred after Strange released correspondence between he and Mr. Espy to the “Montgomery Advertiser” only.
Tuskegee Mayor Johnny Ford has accused Strange of several ethics violations in the last several weeks. Ford contends that Strange is working too close VictoryLand because he is involved with those who sponsor Indian gaming and therefore has a hidden agenda.
“All of these people, Luther Strange, Bob Riley, Brian Taylor, all of these people who have gone on record saying that they are against gaming, yet they have, by PAC-to-PAC transfers and have tried to secretly take money from the Indians for the express purpose of closing down the gaming industry in Macon County,” Ford said.
Strange has come under fire from Bob Martin, Editor and Publisher of the “Montgomery Independent.” Who has written several articles on what he believes to be a connection between the AG and the tribal gaming in Alabama. “Some have suggested that Strange, in going after the non-Indian gambling houses in Alabama, is attempting to give the Poarch Creek Indian gambling operation the ability to further monopolize gaming in Alabama,” Martin wrote recently.
He also has written of Strange, “He has also threatened raids on VictoryLand in Macon County if it is re-opened, yet has continued to permit gambling elsewhere without threats, including Greenetrack in Greene County which advertises it has over 300 of your favorite gaming machines — The Lucky Duck , Bucks and Bucks, Wild Billy, Hotter than Hell, Robbin Some Cash, Four Leaf Cash, Big Dawgz, Crimson 7s, Inferno 7s and many more, to operate wide open.”
With the exception of information given to the “Montgomery Advertiser” and the letter to the ABC Board, silence has been the AG’s answer to repeated request for information.
Meanwhile, Ford and others continued to stress that the gaming industry in Macon County is a home-grown industry that has employed thousand of the areas citizens, “We have some 3,200 people in Milton McGregor, primarily black people and African-American citizens who have applied for jobs…people who need to go to work to take care of their families. People who’s children need resources. Our schools are suffering, city government is suffering. Gaming is an industry for us in Macon County. We created the industry. This is not Milton McGregor’s fight.
On the reopening day at VictoryLand, Mr. Espy said, “We are trying to take the high ground here, meeting on high ground, proceeding on high ground. We didn’t attack until we were attacked. We have tried our best to maintain the high ground for the good for Macon County, the good for Alabama, and the good of the employee’s at VictoryLand.”
It appears the fight may be just beginning, for VictoryLand’s survival. Espy and company seem ready for all events but what they will be are still unknown to those outside the halls of the Attorney General Office.