King, Tyson continue to spar over gambling
Attorney General Troy King said he has the authority to take over the work of Gov. Bob Riley's Task Force on Illegal Gambling, but instead on Wednesday made recommendations to the task force on how to achieve its goals without using force, threats, limited state resources, or putting people in danger.
"It is within the authority of the office of the attorney general to intervene into the controversial and irresponsible activities of the task force, and to direct Mr. Tyson's actions," King said. "Frankly, that is an option that I have strongly considered for the past two weeks. The task force's pending armed confrontation with Greene County authorities left me no choice but to consider this option. ... "
"Yet, out of deferential respect for the governor, assuming direction over Mr. Tyson is not an option that I am prepared to exercise ... yet."
The commander of the task force, Mobile County District Attorney John Tyson Jr., said the governor appointed him and the task force will continue to take direction from the governor.
"It is the duty of the Task Force on Illegal Gambling to enforce criminal law of Alabama," he said. "We will do just that. ... The work of the task force will continue."
In the event King intervenes, Tyson said "certainly we are prepared for that."
"He's given advice, but he's not doing anything," Tyson said of King.
King's recommendations, after a raid by the task force on an establishment in Lowndes County, threats to an establishment in Greene County and attempted raids in Macon and Houston County, include:
-- Tyson immediately should file for declaratory judgments to find out whether electronic bingo is legal in Macon, Lowndes, Houston and Greene counties. King said that would lead to definitive rulings by the Alabama Supreme Court.
-- The task force filing civil actions in those counties "to determine whether sufficient evidence exists to keep these facilities that are closed closed and to close others."
-- Tyson should reduce the risk to law enforcement and the public by not going forward with more warrantless raids. King said the district attorneys elected in those counties can enforce criminal laws there.
Tyson said all 19 of the law "enforcement operations and suppression activities the task force has conducted have been orderly and safe." He said "none have been found illegal."
King said the process of determining the legality of the machines, which he believes are legal in some portions of the state, could move forward quickly if the task force followed his advice.
Tyson said he believes King's push for the task force to seek declaratory judgments is a delaying tactic.
"Delaying the enforcement of criminal law allows a few people to go on breaking the law and get away with it while the rest of us obey the law," Tyson said. "That's neither fair nor right."
The Alabama Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the task force two times in four months, Tyson said. He said those rulings demonstrate the machines at the facilities are not legal and are not bingo. Tyson and Riley believe the machines are slot machines, which are illegal in Alabama.
"Slot machines are illegal no matter what name you call them," Tyson said. "Alabama law clearly states that if it accepts money and dispenses cash value prizes based on any elements of chance, then it's an illegal slot machine. There is no question these machines do exactly what the Alabama law says is illegal."
King said all of the rulings to date have been procedural.
The attorney general said a lot of people have asked him to intervene.
King said that in his 16 years as a lawyer in state government, including six as attorney general, "I have never seen a more ill-advised and reckless approach to a legal issue than the current approach now being undertaken by the governor's task force."
"Rather than moving quickly in a court of law to obtain the answer, the task force has regrettably chosen drama, intimidation, and force."
He would not give a timetable for when he would like to see his recommendations followed and said he was not issuing a threat or an ultimatum.
King said the actions of the task force could subject the state to "devastating liability."
"I have offered this advice in general terms on several occasions. It has gone unheeded," he said.
King said a volatile situation like Greene County could recklessly place law enforcement and the public at risk with county officials including the sheriff vowing to stop a raid if the task force does not have a warrant. The task force did not have a warrant when it attempted raids on VictoryLand in Macon County and Country Crossing near Dothan in Houston County.
King said the decisions about whether the facilities should remain open must be made by courts through proper legal processes.
"Forcing their closure with threats of massive warrantless raids after attempts to get a search warrant is denied by a judge is not such a process ... and saying so does not put one on the side of the gambling interests," King said. " ... If Mr. Tyson cannot close these facilities through a proper court proceeding, he should not attempt to close them by force, fear, or intimidation."
King described the situation as the "right thing ... being done the wrong way ... and with serious consequences." He said the right thing is trying to seek an answer to a legal question: "can bingo be played electronically where constitutional amendments, approved by the voters, allow it."
Riley and King, both Republicans, disagree on the answer.
"No crisis was required to answer this question," King said.
"It is time for a definitive yes or no answer to be sought and gotten," King said. "If the answer is no, we must immediately close down every bingo game in Alabama and deliver a monopoly to the Indians."
King, who said he is opposed to gambling, said the question on the legality of the so-called electronic bingo machines has not yet been put before the Alabama Supreme Court by the task force.
"In fact, as recently as Nov. 13, 2009, the Supreme Court expressly stated that the question of the legality of electronic bingo in Alabama had not been brought before it, and, therefore, they were expressly declining to answer it," King said. "As you all know, a simple, definitive answer from the Alabama Supreme Court would become indisputable law -- law that is definitive, clear, and due to be uniformly enforced."
The state's high court did outline a six-point test for what should be considered bingo, which included more human participation and using cards.
-- posted by Sebastian Kitchen