Alabama Governor Strip’s Attorney General of Authority to Enforce Gaming Laws

Alabama Governor Strip’s Attorney General of Authority to Enforce Gaming Laws
AG Luther Strange Said He Would Defy the Order of Gov. Robert Bentley (pictured) to Stand Down.

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley signed an executive order on Thursday which strips the state’s Attorney General of the responsibility and authority to enforce Alabama gambling laws. Under the new system, local authorities have full responsibility for intepreting and deciding whether to enforce Alabama’s gambling laws.

Gov. Bentley released a statement regarding his new executive order. The statement read, “The State of Alabama has expended immense resources for the enforcement of Alabama’s anti-gambling laws, to date, more than nine million dollars.

$9 Million Court Battle

Those statutes have caused a great deal of conflict and confusion in recent months. Court cases have gone before the Alabama’s district and appellate courts and the state Supreme Court.

Gov. Bentley’s executive order rescinds an earlier 2011 executive order, which tasked the Attorney General with policing the gaming laws of the state. Since then, efforts to do so have led to a court battle with the VictoryLand, a prominent horse racing facility which operates gaming machines that AG considers illegal.

State vs VictoryLand Casino

The governor referred to a recent court case involving the racetrack-casino, referred to in the court system as “State vs VictoryLand Casino“, in announcing his executive order as chief magistrate. The press release said, “Recent judicial rulings have raised concern with the unequal enforcement of Alabama’s criminal laws, including gambling laws, against individuals and businesses.

2013 Raids on Bingo Machines

In February 2013, Attorney General Luther Strange organized raids on the racino, seizing its many bingo machines. That led to two-and-a-half years of court battles. Recently, those ended with a resounding defeat for Luther Strange, as Circuit Judge William Shashy ordered the state to return the bingo machines to Victoryland and allow it to operate casino-style gaming at its facilities within 45 days.

Judge Shashy’s ruling is bad on the fact the state allows the Poarch Band of Indians to have legal gaming machines at its 3 gaming facilities. Shashy wrote in his opinion, “The State did not deny the existence of these casinos or the electronic bingo machines. Thus, the Court reiterates its ruling that the State of Alabama is cherry picking which facilities should remain open or closed, and this Court will not be used as an instrument to perpetuate this unfair treatment.

Luther Strange Defies Governor’s Orders

The executive order appears to be setting up a showdown between the Alabama governor and his own attorney general. In January 2015, Robert Bentley issued an order telling Luther Strange that he was concerned about his use of state funds to pursue an anti-gambling policy against Victoryland. At the time, the governor instructed his AG to “direct primary enforcement of the State’s gambling laws to local law enforcement, which holds the primary duty to investigate and enforce the State’s criminal laws.”

Luther Strange continued to take measures opposed to his boss’s recommendation. In doing so, he appears to have spent $9 million of taxpayers money on court cases Bentley believed were doomed to failure. The loss in district court does not seem to have deterred Attorney General Strange, though.

In a surprise twist, the Attorney General told the Greenfield Reporter this afternoon that he intends on pursuing the case still further. Strange said would continue pursuing the appeals process, after a legal advisor told him that the governor’s executive order did not apply to pending court cases.

Strange Ordered a Judge to Sign a Warrant

The decision is one of a series questioned in the local media. The original 2013 raid of the Shorter gaming facility only happened after the Attorney General ordered a Macon County judge to issue a warrant “with the greatest judicial resistance“.

Since then, most of Alabama’s judges have shied away from hearing the case. Every single judge in Victoryland’s district recused themselves from ruling on the case, besides Judge William Shashy. In doing so, he is defying his direct superior. Of course, so is Luther Strange, at the moment. With such a contentious situation, some have wondered whether the governor would fire his own attorney general.

Del Marsh Supports the Governor

Alabama Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh is siding with the governor in the dispute. In a statement today, Sen. Marsh said, “The state and federal courts have now settled the question about whether or not we are going to have gaming–it is legal and it is here to stay….Governor Bentley has taken the bull by the horns on this issue and he has my full support.

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