By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter
Doesn’t the Alabama attorney general have better things to do than harass hard working citizens in the state’s poorest counties?
That, collectively, was the message Alabama casino owners sent to AG Steve Marshall on Thursday, a day after Marshall announced his intent to file public nuisance lawsuits against casinos in five counties.
“(Marshall’s) actions are hurting thousands of Alabama families and potentially costing Alabama important jobs while also costing us millions of dollars,” VictoryLand owner, Milton McGregor, said in a statement. “VictoryLand will continue to fight on behalf of its wonderful employees and the people of Macon County and East Alabama.”
McGregor’s attorney, Joe Espy, added that employees from the casino, scared after hearing the news of Marshall’s lawsuits, had been calling McGregor to ensure they still had jobs and would receive paychecks.
To be sure, Marshall’s move on Thursday caught the casinos and the general public a bit off-guard. While rumors had swirled several weeks ago about Marshall’s ideas of reigniting the bingo wars, most thought that idea had died a quick death when Gov. Kay Ivey made it clear that state troopers would not be part of any casino raids.
And why wouldn’t she? For the past two-plus years, the hoopla over electronic bingo has been mostly dormant. Following a change in tactics by former Gov. Robert Bentley, which essentially gave existing casinos in Greene, Macon and Lowndes a pass, facilities in those counties operated without incident.
Bentley made it clear at the time that he made the decision because the casinos in those counties were the largest employers and provided tax revenue that supported almost all county and city services. GreeneTrack, for example, pays the full cost of Greene County’s E-911 service and its fire protection.
There doesn’t appear to be a cause for Marshall reigniting the fight now. Particularly considering the lengths some of the facilities have gone to in order to comply with state laws.
Attorneys for Center Stage in Dothan issued a press release on Thursday stating that its facility operates paper bingo but uses electronic screens with it, which is legal under its county constitutional amendment. The games appear to meet all of the seven-point test the Alabama Supreme Court adopted to determine if a game fit the definition of traditional bingo.
“We are very disappointed the Attorney General did not first reach out to us to discuss his concerns and explore ways to possibly alleviate his concerns rather than file this lawsuit seeking to deprive our employees of their livelihood,” Center Stage attorney Ashton Ott wrote in the release.
McGregor questioned the motives of Marshall and compared him to former AG Luther Strange. He also pointed out that, again, the only people who might benefit from this legal action are the Poarch Creek Indians, who operate three tax-free casinos in the state.
“Luther Strange and Steve Marshall are two peas in a pod,” McGregor said. “It is documented that Strange allowed bingo machines to be taken from VictoryLand and to the Indian casino locations. Marshall is trying to follow in Big Luther’s footsteps. Strange was sent a message loud and clear by the voters in Alabama and Steve Marshall will be sent that same message next June.”
McGregor was referring to a deal Strange brokered with gaming machine manufacturers shortly after his final raids in 2012 and 2013. According to that agreement, if the manufacturers agreed not to sell any machines to non-Indian casinos, they could reclaim thousands of machines confiscated by the state – some of which the manufacturers, with Strange’s blessing, transported directly to Poarch Creek casinos.