Hobson City officials have waited nearly a year for the opening of the hall. The facility is expected to generate much-needed tax revenue — money the town plans to spend on law enforcement to revive its currently defunct police department.
“People are still concerned,” Hobson City Mayor Alberta McCrory said of the lack of police. “People are still asking when we are going to get some police.”
Hobson City once had a police force. However, debts for utility service and other financial problems led to its decline. The 2006 conviction of the town’s last police chief, Daryl Parker, on two counts of selling weapons to a convicted felon and one count of extortion, finally forced the council to shut the department down.
The Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office now acts as the sole law enforcement agency for the town, but the agency does not patrol the community regularly and mainly visits the area only after a resident has reported a crime. The Town Council has exhausted several avenues to find more permanent law enforcement, especially after a man was shot and killed there last summer.
McCrory said the council’s current plan is to use the bingo revenue to hire one or two sheriff’s deputies to patrol the town.
“They would be doing all the things that law enforcement agencies would do, like traffic and responding to calls,” McCrory said.
Speeding and a general lack of safety have been persistent problems without regular law enforcement in the area, she said.
“People have been very disrespectful to others in the community because there are no police and they are using the streets like drag strips,” McCrory said.
But before the city can use any bingo revenue, the facility must open.
South Carolina businessman Larry Rogers, who is opening the facility under the name I-20 Bingo, said the facility would open in September with strictly paper bingo. Rogers said the latest opening delay was due to legal concerns regarding electronic bingo devices he wanted to use and the fact it is now the summer. The opening had previously been delayed due to unforeseen renovation problems.
“Summer is not a good time for bingo,” Rogers said. “The kids are out of school and everybody is taking vacations … bingo is the last thing on their minds.”
Rogers had last planned to open the bingo hall in April after receiving approval from the Calhoun County Bingo Commission to use electronic bingo devices. However, the Calhoun County district attorney later sent a letter to the commission, stating the devices were not legal in the county, said Ralph Woods, commission chairman.
Under Alabama Law, the bingo commission 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.
“They still need a legislative change to use the machines,” Woods said. “I’ve got no problem with electronic bingo, but until regulations change, there is nothing we can do.”
Paper bingo is legal in Calhoun County under state law but is highly regulated. Bingo operators must also provide at least 10 percent of their proceeds to charitable or educational purposes.
The devices in question 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 touch screen. Players load multiple bingo cards into the device then use the touch screen to play and mark the cards all at the same time.
Woods said he did not see a problem with the devices or other electronic bingo machines for that matter.
“If people in Alabama are going everywhere else to play, why not here?” Woods asked.
Star staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star