The Calhoun County Bingo Regulatory Commission watched a demonstration of the devices Thursday before agreeing to write a letter to the offices of the sheriff and the district attorney stating that commission members found no fault with the machines.
With the commission having seen the machines in action, it is now up to the sheriff and the district attorney to decide if they can legally be used in the county.
“We have approved your bingo permit but we can’t approve how you operate,” said bingo commission member Joe Lett.
The bingo commission, which under Alabama Law has the authority to investigate bingo permit applications and recommend the issuance of permits to the Calhoun County Commission and the Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office, recommended a permit for bingo operation in Hobson City several months ago.
Last year, South Carolina businessman Larry Rogers told the Hobson City Town Council that he planned to open a bingo hall in an unused building on Martin Luther King Drive under the name I-20 Bingo. Rogers’ current plan is to open the facility in April.
The Hobson City Town Council has held off issuing a business license to Rogers until the legalities of the machines were addressed.
“I still hold that position,” said Mayor Alberta McCrory, who attended the demonstration. “The bingo commission has done what they can do. It’s just been our concern that we are following the letter of the law.”
The devices are called TAB-e machines and are produced by a Nebraska gambling device manufacturer called Video King. They look similar to tablet computers, complete with a 7-inch touchscreen. Players can load multiple bingo cards into the device then use the touchscreen to play and mark the cards all at the same time.
Paper bingo is legal in Calhoun County under state law but is stringently regulated. Bingo operators must also provide at least 10 percent of their proceeds to charitable or educational purposes.
“It’s traditional bingo with an assist,” said Olen Young, regional manager for Southern Bingo of Florida, which distributes the machines. “The beneficial thing is it allows you to play more cards.”
Rogers, who was with Young at the demonstration, said the machines are nothing like the electronic gambling devices already outlawed in the state.
“This has nothing to do with bingo slots,” Rogers said. “We have only the intention to play bingo the traditional way.”
Young added that many of his machines are already used in Alabama, including Birmingham, Mobile and Montgomery.
Several of the commission members said they had no problem with the machines, but reiterated that only the sheriff and district attorney had the authority to approve them.
“Your problem is not going to be with us,” Lett said.
Hobson City once had another paper bingo parlor called I-20 Bingo, but after several decades of operation the business closed and then the building burned down in 2010. A new bingo hall in town would likely mean increased revenue for Hobson City, which has struggled financially in recent years due to a lack of local business.
But regardless of whether the devices are deemed legal, Rogers plans to open the bingo hall. Without the machines, the hall will still open with just paper bingo, he said.
Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star