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AG’s office raids two Jefferson County electronic bingo casinos

Electronic bingo casinos have been popping up all over Jefferson County, with some cities in the county offering casino licenses.

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A blast from the past: State bingo raids are back. 

The Alabama Attorney General’s Office on Tuesday confirmed that it had participated in raids on at least two Jefferson County electronic bingo casinos, removing machines and shuttering the locations. ABC 33/40 News reported late Tuesday that notices posted on the doors of both establishments declared them a “public nuisance” and warned against entry. 

The AG’s Office announced a press conference for Wednesday morning outside one of the shuttered casinos, Superhighway Bingo in Brighton. 

The raids are the latest in a multi-years-long feud between AG Steve Marshall and Jefferson County Sheriff Mark Pettway. Pettway has let it be known that his office has no intention of shutting down electronic bingo establishments in the county. Various small towns throughout the county have issued licenses to multiple casinos and electronic bingo casinos have spread rapidly around the county.  

Marshall has in the past publicly and privately requested that Pettway close the casinos. The sheriff has ignored those requests and offered little explanation – aside from the fact that his office lacks the resources to concern itself with bingo law enforcement – for his indifference. 

In the meantime, the sheriff’s brother, Bruce Pettway, received a license in 2019 from the city of Graysville, in Jefferson County, to operate an electronic bingo casino. 

Marshall, in turn, seized more than $200,000 from Bruce Pettway, claiming the money was obtained illegally through the casino. Bruce Pettway then sued Marshall, claiming the seizure was an overreach and politically motivated. A federal judge agreed, but the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the decision, ruling that Marshall has qualified immunity from the lawsuit. 

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The raids on Tuesday renew a decades-old fight over the definition of bingo – a unique and befuddling hill that Alabama’s legal system has chosen to die on. Unlike the federal government and pretty much every other state in America, Alabama, by way of a manufactured state supreme court decision, has chosen to limit the definition of bingo to a game played only on paper cards. 

The state has multiple counties with constitutional amendments that allow for bingo halls. But not electronic bingo halls. 

When electronic bingo machines began to take off in the late-1990s and early 2000s, and as Native American tribes began to use them to make billions of dollars, several counties in Alabama passed new bingo amendments that were specifically meant to allow for the electronic games. And for several years, casinos around the state flourished. 

Then, former Gov. Bob Riley decided that the electronic games were illegal. And the raids began.

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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