By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—VictoryLand supporters made it clear at a press conference on Monday, that the facility would reopen, giving much needed hope to the citizens of Macon County that thousands of good paying jobs would be returning to their beleaguered community.
Last week, the Alabama Supreme Court struck down a lower court ruling that would have paved the way for VictoryLand’s reopening. The upper court’s ruling came on the heels of a letter in late March from George Beck, US Attorney for the Middle District, to Gov. Robert Bentley, and Attorney General Strange, questioning inconsistencies in the State’s position on bingo machines.
During the Monday press conference, VictoryLand owner, Milton McGregor, said the doors would open in “early summer,” just as soon as new machines were in place and employees completed their training.
In June 2015, Montgomery Circuit Court Judge William A Shashy dismissed the Attorney General’s case against his Victoryland. Judge Shashy wrote in his ruling, that everyone is entitled to equal protection under the law, and accused the Attorney General’s Office of “cherry picking” which casinos to raid and which to ignore. Specifically, he referred to the Poarch Band of Creek Indians (PCI), who run electronic bingo games in Wetumpka, Montgomery, and Atmore.
Many hoped Judge Shashy’s ruling would put an end to the legal battle that began in Gov. Bob Riley’s administration. That cost the State of Alabama millions.
Judge Shashy order was overturned by the State Supreme Court, so the battle still rages on, with taxpayers footing the bill.
Vowing to soldier on, Milton McGregor said, “VictoryLand was moving forward with plans to reopen soon. We are now in the final stages of getting set to hire people and reopen VictoryLand. We will work closely with the Macon County Sheriff and District Attorney to make sure our bingo games meet the Alabama Constitution, as well as rules established for Macon County. We will not proceed without their vetting, and approval….We expect many of the games we will offer to be identical to what is played at the Indian casinos 15 minutes away, and we also expect new games that will be very popular with our customers from Alabama, and surrounding states.”
In late 2015, Gov. Bentley issued as executive order reaffirming that enforcement of State gaming laws were under the purview of local law enforcement.
At the presser, Macon County Sheriff Andre Brunson promised that he would follow the Alabama Constitution in policing the gaming at VictoryLand. He said he was eager to see Macon County citizens being put back to work.
“The local Constitutional Amendment passed overwhelmingly by the voters, gives my office and the office of District Attorney, the role to determine all rules and regulations regarding the operation of bingo in Macon County,” Brunson said. “We take this responsibility very seriously….I am not a lawyer. I am a lawman,” he said. “But I can tell you that the ruling last week is not worth the paper it is written on, according to the lawyers and knowledgeable people I have talked with.”
Sheriff Brunson’s legal counsel, James Anderson, pointed out that the Supreme Court’s opinion ignored more than 100 years of legal precedent. Previous Alabama Supreme Court rulings, have been based on the intent of the people who voted to approve the Constitutional Amendment.
“It has been the law in Alabama, for well over a hundred years, that the way to interpret a provision of the Alabama Constitution, is to determine the intention of the people who adopted it,” Anderson said. “(The Court) willfully ignored the overwhelming and undisputed evidence that in 2003, when the people of Macon County were considering ratification of Amendment 744, people all across the country – and people in Alabama, and Macon County in particular – used the word ‘bingo’ to refer to networked electronic games that are just like the ones at VictoryLand.”
The political and legal wrangling continues. But what seems certain, is the people of Macon County and Milton McGregor are not backing down from the fight.