By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—A memorandum from the Office of the Governor dated September 20, 2016, informed the sheriffs and district attorneys for both Macon and Lowndes County of their responsibility to enforce State laws which “prohibit lotteries and gift enterprises, including electronic bingo.” The emailed memo signed by Gov. Robert Bentley and Attorney General Luther Strange reads “RE: Executive Order 13 and Local Constitutional Amendments.”
The email sent to Macon contained an attached letter to Macon County District Attorney Paul Jones and Macon County Sheriff, as does the email to Lowndes County District Attorney Charlotte Tesmer and County Sheriff John Williams. Both letters cite the Cornerstone ruling and the findings in Houston Cty. Econ. Dev. Auth. v. State.
Notably, the Houston County bingo operations and the County DA and Sheriff are not mentioned in the memo and haven’t received notification as of this report.
The correspondence prominently features Bentley Executive Order 13. The Order states in part, “the primary responsibility for enforcement of Alabama’s criminal laws shall remain with the sheriffs and district attorneys of each County as guided by their careful interpretation of the laws of the State of Alabama in their capacity as constitutional officers and officers of the courts.”
In their correspondence with the local authorities, Bentley and Strange caution them not to “personally interpret the laws of our state contrary to the interpretation of our Supreme Court. Regardless of personal opinion or public sentiment.”
According to sources close to the Governor’s office, the Attorney General’s Chief Deputy Alice Martin met with Bentley in his office on Wednesday of this week around 8:30 am. These sources claim Martin asked Bentley to provide State funds and Troopers to raid bingo operations in Macon and Lowndes County. Well-placed insiders say Bentley rejected the request. Just a few hours later, General Strange met with Bentley where an agreement was reached to send the memo and letters.
The Capitol City’s highly-charged rumor mill is rife with speculation as calls, texts and emails bounce from satellite to the chattering class at light speed. Some point to the Governor’s former Special Advisor Rebekah Caldwell Mason, who remains the shadow governor, according to knowledgeable staffers. Other’s believe this is a political calculation to secure Strange’s support among the anti-gaming faction of the Republican base. Then there are some who see the Poarch Band of Creek Indians behind to whole affair.
However, there is also evidence that a core group inside the Attorney General’s office are demanding Strange enforce the law and damn the political consequences.
Bentley, on several occasions, has signaled that he wants to let the people of Macon County go back to work at VictoryLand.
In December 2015, a letter exchange between Bentley, Macon County District Attorney Jones and Sheriff Brunson seemed to clear a path for the reopening of VictoryLand. It also offered assurance to those companies supplying bingo machines, that the State would not confiscate them as in the past.
The December 4 letter from Jones and Brunson began, “We appreciate the full faith and confidence you have expressed in us to enforce the law in our county. We assure you that every law will be enforced equally as it applies to each of our citizens and all those doing business in our county.” The exchange is a direct acknowledgment of the Governor’s Executive Order, which returns the power to enforce State gaming laws to local law enforcement.
The letter continues: “There are a number of nationally recognized, reputable companies that now desire to provide bingo games in Macon County. We have advised them that they are welcome to do business with us as long as they cooperate with our offices and fully comply with all applicable laws, rules and regulations governing bingo in our county.”
Jones and Brunson pledge to Gov. Bentley, that they will have each machine, “examined, tested and certified by a reputable independent testing laboratory,” to ensure that are in compliance with the constitutional amendment making bingo in any form legal in Macon County.
Three days later, Bentley wrote Jones and Brunson stating, “I am satisfied with the terms and conditions you outlined in your letter to me with respect to the inspection and legal compliance for any bingo machine brought to Macon County. I have every confidence that you will enforce the law in your county as it applied to this important issue.”
At VictoryLand’s recent reopening, owner Milton MacGregor stated that the machines were not like the ones confiscated by the Attorney General of found illegal by the Supreme Court. He also stated they machines come from a totally different vendor who certified the machine as electronic bingo. BMM, the leader in gaming machine certification carried out the certifying process.
In the past few weeks, Assistant Attorney General John Kachelman has noted privately, that the new machines at VictoryLand create a situation in which an Attorney General’s team would need to start at square one to close VictoryLand.
Kachelman took point position on gambling prosecution, after disgraced Assistant Attorney General Henry T. “Sonny” Reagan was forced to resign, because of his efforts to undermine the case, that led to the felony conviction of former House Speaker Mike Hubbard.
This latest volley of memos and letters indicate that the bingo wars begun by former Governor Bob Riley are far from being over.