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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Operators close White Hall gaming facility

Operators of a gambling facility about 20 miles east of Montgomery decided to close the doors as of 5 p.m. Wednesday, leaving 105 people without a job.
Attorney Joe Espy said he hoped the voluntary closing of the White Hall facility would be temporary and that, hopefully, it would reopen in two weeks. He said the organization that operates the facility, Cornerstone Community Outreach, planned to analyze the machines and ensure they comply with the standards outlined in a Friday decision by the Alabama Supreme Court.
"The White Hall Entertainment Center will re-open for business when the determination has been made that all machines are in compliance," according to a release from Espy's office.
The state's highest court, in a case between operators of the White Hall facility and the governor's task force on illegal gambling, outlined a six-point definition of bingo. Gov. Bob Riley said the machines are slot machines, which are illegal in Alabama, and do not meet the definition of bingo.
The court did not outlaw electronic bingo, but did open the door for the task force to raid the White Hall facility again. The governor's task force raided the facility in March, seizing more than 100 machines and $560,000 in cash.
"In spite of the fact that the ruling by the court was merely preliminary and that Cornerstone is confident that the White Hall bingo operation is legal and constitutional, Cornerstone is unwilling to subject its employees and customers to a repeat of the mistreatment that occurred when the governor's task force raided the facility in March of this year," according to a release from Espy's office.
Espy said the machines and money have not been returned and are the subject of pending litigation.
Jeff Emerson, communications director for Riley, said they did not have a comment about the closing on Wednesday. Attorneys for the facility informed the governor's office about the closing late Wednesday afternoon, he said.
When asked about people losing their jobs, Emerson said "That's illegal activity that is going on (at the White Hall gaming center) and illegal activity should be stopped wherever it happens."
When asked if there would be any help offered to those who lost their job, Emerson said he did not know at the time.
The small community, Espy said, is losing jobs and charitable contributions during the holiday season.
"It"s certainly devastating," he said. "We are confident that we can reopen. The problem is we're just not sure when that is."
Espy said he did not know how much money was going to Cornerstone, but he said about $500,000 had been given to charities to date.
Emerson said casinos are a drain on local communities and the governor's office has seen studies that show that having a casino within 50 miles doubles the rate of compulsive gamblers. Each compulsive gambler, he said, costs society $10,000 in lost productivity, crime or welfare costs.
"Casinos take more than they give," Emerson said.

-- posted by Sebastian Kitchen

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Location: Montgomery, AL, United States

South Union Street is the blog of Montgomery Advertiser political reporters Markeshia Ricks and Sebastian Kitchen. Always check here for the latest on the Legislature, elections and other activities and players in Alabama.

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