Hubbard weighed in with his legal perspective on the issue while speaking to the Anniston Rotary club. His remarks come on the heels of weeks of statewide drama between Alabama Gov. Bob Riley and Attorney General Troy King.
“I believe the enabling legislation in our county is very explicit, and says it is to be played by cards, printed,” Hubbard said.
Hubbard said his concern isn’t a moral one, but that he worries the gaming entrepreneurs across the state would use the legalization of electronic bingo as a loophole for illegal gaming devices.
“The playing of one game expands into another game,” Hubbard said. “I think that is what the governor is concerned about. The next thing you’ll see is that electronic gaming or bingo has expanded into something it’s not meant to be.
“That doesn’t mean I don’t like bingo or games of chance. I really have no problem with electronic bingo, if in fact electronic bingo is what is going to be played. But I have enough experience in this particular area to believe it’s going to escalate to be a problem in the state of Alabama.”
He said he expects that at some point, electronic bingo litigation will find its way to this area, though it wouldn’t be the first time.
In the mid- and late-1990s, Piedmont was the center of a high stakes bingo saga, in which the city unsuccessfully sued Hubbard and the attorney general. The owner of Frontier Palace bingo hall was arrested for operating illegal gaming machines in the 1990s, as well.
Piedmont Mayor Brian Young said Tuesday the city’s one bingo hall only allows playing paper bingo for now, but he hopes electronic bingo will become legal in the county.
“The way you read (Piedmont’s ordinance), it says (bingo) can be played on a card,” Young said. “I don’t know what a card is. I get birthday cards sometimes that are electronic and play music. I just wish someone would make a clear ruling.”
Hubbard told the Rotary Club he believes the state’s Supreme Court has been clear on the issue of what constitutes legal bingo.
The Supreme Court “hasn’t said (whether) the bingo we know can or cannot be played on machines,” Hubbard said. “What it has said is that there are certain characteristics of traditional bingo.”
The court determined that bingo is a group activity, wherein players must pay attention to announced values, he said. If a player fails to pay attention, they miss the opportunity to win — something not allowed for in electronic bingo, according to Hubbard.
These characteristics are “going to be the death knell of electronic bingo,” Hubbard said. “I think that with our legislation passed in 1996, regardless of what the Supreme Court says, an argument can be made that electronic bingo is illegal in Calhoun County.”
Young said electronic bingo would be a good revenue source for his city. The 80,000 sq. foot bingo hall pays a “head tax” of $4 per player, which is split evenly between the city and the school system, according to Young.
“Electronic bingo in other parts of the state has really hurt ours,” he said.
Contact staff writer Rebecca Walker at 256-235-3562.