The Alabama Attorney General’s Office has lost again in its efforts to stop a Macon County dog track and casino from operating some electronic bingo games.
Circuit Court Judge Steve Perryman ruled Tuesday that the state’s request for an injunction to close the casino while awaiting a full trial to prove that VictoryLand is a public nuisance failed to present any evidence of harm to the surrounding community. At the same time, attorneys for VictoryLand were able to present a number of witnesses who testified to the casino’s positive impact in Macon County, primarily through tax revenue and charitable donations.
Perryman ordered the parties to maintain the status quo — which leaves VictoryLand operational — but did provide the AG’s office with an opportunity to report to the court any evidence of minors on the premises at VictoryLand, any breach of the peace or any incident in which a person reports to be endangered in any way while on the VictoryLand premises — evidence that could be presented in a full trial on the claim that VictoryLand is a public nuisance.
“The Court has not heard any evidence of any minor entering the premises described in testimony … or of any breaches of the peace upon such premises, or any non-party business invitee at such premises having made any complaint that he or she suffered endangerment to his or her public health, morals, safety or welfare, but the Court will, upon the filing of any such report in writing as described herein, schedule a hearing to reconsider the scope of this order maintaining the status quo of the parties, and will, if evidence requires, appropriately modify the scope of this order,” Perryman wrote in his order.
The order is the latest in a two-decades-long feud between various state officials and VictoryLand and other electronic bingo casino operators in the state. Some state officials, starting with former Gov. Bob Riley and former AG Luther Strange, believe the casinos to be operating illegally.
However, the casinos and a number of circuit court judges believe the operations are lawful and covered by specific constitutional amendments granting the casinos the right to operate bingo games in electronic form. The casinos have won more than 20 circuit court cases challenging their rights to operate, including cases heard by appointed judges from outside the counties where the casinos operate.
One court, though, has remained steadfastly against them — the Alabama Supreme Court. Time and again, the state’s highest court has created legal avenues in order to rule against the casinos, including at one point manufacturing laws by creating a “bingo test” that previously had not existed. That “test,” along with the ALSC’s refusal to address the facts of the constitutional amendment issues, has led many critics to question whether politics played a role in those rulings.
Regardless, the differing legal opinions from judges, even despite the ALSC’s “test” opinion, and the popularity of the casinos in their counties — where local sheriffs have the authority — have continued the fight between state officials and the casinos. Although, in recent years, even state officials have tired of it.
Former Gov. Robert Bentley signed an executive order granting local law enforcement authority over currently operating electronic bingo casinos, saying that local officials were the best people to determine what was best for their counties.
Gov. Kay Ivey has mostly taken a hands-off approach to the gambling issue, although her office played an integral role in a gambling bill last session that would have legalized casino gaming at VictoryLand and other currently-operating electronic bingo casinos.
Public opinion on gambling, and on gambling raids, has also shifted in favor of the casinos in recent years. Recent polling showed that more than two-thirds of state voters favored some form of gambling in the state. Nearly 60 percent favored full casino gaming at a variety of locations.
None of that stopped current AG Steve Marshall from taking up the cause four years ago — during the midst of his campaign for AG. (Marshall was appointed AG by Bentley after Strange resigned to accept the appointment as Alabama’s U.S. Senator.) Marshall had previously said publicly that he had no interest in taking on the electronic bingo fights.