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Alabama Political Parties Widely Divided on Gaming

By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

On Tuesday the Alabama Attorney General’s office stormed VictoryLand near Shorter. According to most elected Alabama Democrats the facility was a bingo hall operating legally under a Macon County constitutional amendment. According to most elected Alabama Republicans the facility was a casino operating illegally in open defiance of Alabama law.
Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange said, “From my first day in office, I have worked to ensure that illegal gambling laws are enforced consistently across the state.” “My office worked to try to resolve this matter with minimal controversy. Unfortunately, the VictoryLand casino was operating in open defiance of the rule of law and we have been left with no alternative but to treat this as we would any other law enforcement matter.”
Representative Pebblin Warren (D) from Tuskegee lamented the 300 jobs lost by people in her county with the closing of VictoryLand and urged lawmakers to support legislation that she planned to introduce to formally legalize VictoryLand so that the bingo hall or casino can reopen.

Alabama Republican Party Chairman Bill Armistead said, “I applaud the actions taken by Attorney General Luther Strange and his office to once and for all rid our state of illegal gambling. Hopefully, the lawsuit that he has filed in the Circuit Court of Elmore County will result in clarification of what is legal and what is illegal gambling in Alabama. Once clarified I am certain that the Attorney General will enforce them to the letter of the law. The gambling issue has been a cloud over the legislative process for years as efforts to expand gambling in Alabama has been on-going for decades. I know first hand how the gambling issue can cause the legislature to become dysfunctional since I served in the Senate for 8 years. Many good pieces of legislation that would benefit the hard working families have failed to pass over the years due to the persistence of the gambling industry in trying to expand in our State. Alabama voters have also expressed their opinion on gambling when they voted down Gov. Don Siegelman’s lottery in 1999.”

Rep. John Knight (D) from Montgomery said that the lawsuit against the Poarch Creek Indian facilities was simply a ruse to cover for a double standard that allowed the Indians to operate their bingo halls or illegal casinos while VictoryLand was closed.

The federal Bureau of Indian Affairs has claimed jurisdiction over Indian gaming in Alabama to this point.
Rep. Alvin Holmes (D) from Montgomery said that he was in the legislature when the Amendment authorizing gaming at VictoryLand was passed and he believed that VictoryLand was operating legally under the terms of that original Macon County only amendment.

AG Strange said, “Until the Alabama Legislature acts to create an effective deterrent for large scale illegal gambling, individuals will continue to engage in illegal gambling activity and openly defy the law. These individuals stand to make millions of dollars in illegal gambling profits while risking only a slap-on-the-wrist misdemeanor charge. Law enforcement will continue to be forced to expend valuable resources to deal with the growing problem. The Legislature must change that weakness in our law and create a badly needed deterrent for large scale illegal gambling by increasing the penalty for operating an illegal slot machine casino to a felony.”

Chairman Armistead said, “The Alabama Republican Party has on numerous occasions taken a public stance in opposition to expanded gaming in Alabama and supports the removal of all gambling enterprises in the state. Today General Strange has taken a large step forward for our state and bringing the gaming and gambling issue to a lawful conclusion once and for all in Alabama.”

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VictoryLand’s future will likely be decided in the courts as Democratic legislation to protect the struggling casino or business hall seems highly unlikely to pass in the Republican controlled Alabama legislature. The future of Indian gaming in the state will likely also be decided by the courts though the federal government is likely to also have a say in that issue.

Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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