A federal investigation nearly closed the door on most forms of legal casino-style gambling in 2010 when it indicted a host of heavy-hitters — legislators, lobbyists and casino owners — on charges of vote-buying in Montgomery. A jury cleared the legislators and most of the others of wrongdoing.
The verdict also halted electronic gambling’s demise.
Thus, and with no real surprise, VictoryLand owner Milton McGregor has reopened the wound from which has flowed much of Alabama’s gambling turmoil. On Tuesday, McGregor — one of the owners acquitted in March — threw open his casino’s doors to several hundred patrons who waited outside.
Once inside, McGregor’s customers found 1,200 video machines that simulate slot machines but do not have pull-down handles. Instead, customers see slot-like reels on the video screen and a bingo card in the corner. Customers don’t insert money into the machines; instead, they put money on an electronic card that’s used to fund the games.
Here’s where Alabamians should yell: Stop! We’ve heard this before.
This is familiar territory for Alabama and its thus-far futile attempt to thwart electronic gambling. The state resides on one side of the argument at roughly the same place once occupied by former Gov. Bob Riley and former Attorney General Troy King — who, before their acrimonious, public split over the best way to outlaw electronic gambling, were the catalysts for the state’s anti-gambling efforts.
On the other side sit casino owners such as McGregor, who are adept at maneuvering the convoluted and inconsistent laws of the state and its 67 counties. (Those laws don’t affect the state’s three legal Poarch Creek Indian casinos, which are regulated by the federal government.)
Instead of Riley and King nipping at McGregor’s heels, it’s Attorney General Luther Strange, who’s made his opinion clear about the illegality of VictoryLand’s machines. (He also raided two other casinos earlier this year.) “It’s very disappointing that VictoryLand has chosen the path of confrontation,” Strange told the Associated Press.
Say it again, Alabamians: We’ve heard this before.
The Riley-King spat over who had authority to combat electronic bingo stained Riley’s otherwise successful two terms in office. Likewise, the federal investigation of a gambling vote in the state Legislature brought Alabama a horde of negative publicity. Different people, different scenarios, but similar outcomes: Alabama continues to fight an internal civil war over electronic gambling. And now we gird ourselves for another legal tussle between those who want gambling (and its profits) and those who want it banished.
In other words, more of the same — but few, if any, definitive answers.