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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Strange says no to casino raids

Early morning casino raids appear to be a thing of the past.

In one of his first acts as governor, Robert Bentley, abolished former Gov. Bob Riley’s task force on illegal gambling and reassigned gaming cases to the attorney general’s office.

Riley was able to use the task force and the threat of raids to shutdown and keep closed non-Indian electronic bingo operators in the state. He established the task force during the last year of his second term after he disagreed with former Attorney General Troy King about the legality of so-called bingo machines.

But new Attorney General Luther Strange said that he has no plans to raid electronic bingo facilities, even though he has the resources to do so if they begin re-opening their doors.

Strange said his office will take a different approach to the gaming issue and work with local law enforcement agents to make sure that everyone is following the law when it comes to gaming. A familiar face, however, is handling the gaming cases. Sonny Reagan, former legal advisor to Riley, has returned to the attorney general’s office under Strange and is working on the gaming issue.

Strange said he has been in contact with representatives from Greenetrack, Country Crossing and VictoryLand about getting cases before judges so the issue can be resolved once and for all. There is a hearing in the Greenetrack case today.

“We’re offering them an opportunity to make their case in court,” Strange said in a special meeting with the press Wednesday. “Our position is that these machines are illegal and they don’t fit the definition of bingo.”

Strange said he wants the operators of the machines to allow them to be seized so that forfeiture hearings could take place. He said the machines could be seized “in place” so that they don’t have to be removed from the facilities.
Strange said that if the state wins in court, and he believes it would, the machines would be destroyed.

Strange said he doesn’t expect any currently closed bingo operations to re-open, but if they did, his office would follow standard law enforcement procedures to shut them back down.

But one thing Strange said he is not willing to do is allow the issue of determining whether so-called electronic bingo machines are actually illegal slot machines consume his office.

“I’m trying to put bingo in a box like any other legal issue,” he said. “There has been too much focus on it.”

-- posted by Markeshia Ricks

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