Alabama Senate Fails to Pass VictoryLand Gaming Bill to Clarify State Law
The Alabama Senate failed to pass a bill this week which would clarify the law on slot machines in non-tribal gaming locations like VictoryLand and GreeneTrack. Sen. Bobby Kingston, a Democrat from Greensboro, sponsored the bill, but it came up 4 votes short of the necessary 21 for passage. Alabama faces an increasingly nebulous legal situation in regard to gaming law.
Bobby Singleton’s bill was introduced in a month when a U.S. Attorney in Birmingham continues to solicit legal opinions from Alabama state officials. The attorney says he continues to receive questions from Alabama local officials on the legality of slot machines in private-owned facilities, but he cannot get top officials to clarify the law.
Robert Bentley v. Luther Strange
Questions stem from a long standoff between embattled Gov. Robert Bentley and his rebellious Attorney General, Luther Strange. The dispute is over gaming machines in legal racetracks like Greenetrack and VictoryLand, and whether non-tribal racinos are legal.
AG Luther Strange raided the racetracks in February 2012, seizing gaming machines and confiscating hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of cash. Three racetracks shut down their slot machine gaming space, though they claimed the revenues from the gaming machines were needed to stay in business.
Milton McGregor’s Lawsuit
VictoryLand’s owner Milton McGregor filed a lawsuit against Luther Strange, saying Alabama’s enforcement was discriminatory. The Attorney General allows Alabama’s Poarch Band of Indians to operate slot casinos, so VictoryLand’s lawyers argued that selective enforcement of the gaming laws were discriminatory.
An Alabama judge, William Shashy, found in favor of VictoryLand. Citing a 2003 law in which the state legalized casino-style gambling at racetracks, Judge Shashy gave Attorney General Strange 45 days to release the gaming machines and reimburse the racetracks.
William Shashy’s Legal Opinion
In his ruling’s opinion, Judge Shashy wrote, “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 opened or closed, and this court will not be used as an instrument to perpetuate this unfair treatment.”
Luther Strange defied the court order and refused to comply, leaving Alabama gaming law thoroughly unsettled. Governor Robert Bentley was critical of his attorney general, and even issued an order to Alabama state troopers stating they were under no obligation to enforce Luther Strange’s version of Alabama gaming laws.
The Long Shadow of the Bentley Scandal
Any other time, the Alabama governor might take the further step of firing his attorney general, on the grounds that he is defying the will of Alabama’s executive branch (chief executive) and judicial branch of government. Unfortunately, Gov. Bentley is in the middle of a first-class political scandal, stemming from his extramarital relationship with a former aide. Gov. Bentley will be lucky to emerge with his own job, much less take down the chief prosecutor in the state.
With the attorney general defying the executive and judicial branches of government, Sen. Bobby Singleton sought to spur the legislative branch to action. In the legal limbo, someone needs to take leadership and bring an end to the dispute. Singleton’s bill misfired, so it appears the Alabama Senate will not be providing leadership on the issue. The only chance remaining is for a bill to emerge from the Alabama House of Representatives. Seeing a bill go down to defeat in the Senate, Alabama’s state representatives are unlikely to sponsor such a bill, though.
Legal Limbo for Alabama Casinos
In the absence of a definitive policy from above AG Strange’s head, it appears that his will is going to win. The Alabama racetracks continue to languish with their chief revenue stream gone, the Poarch Indians gain a state-sponsored monopoly over casino gambling, and Luther Strange is allowed to pursue a political vendetta against businesses which beat him in court. One of the three racetracks targeted by the attorney general has closed its doors already.
The Alabama media has tried to hold top officials accountable, but their reporting seems to have had little effect. The Alabama Gazette pointed out that Forbes Magazine listed Alabama as #6 in terms of state-level corruption in the United States. It also accused Luther Strange of political corruption in the VictoryLand case, saying the people of Alabama have noticed.
Alabama Gazette’s Op-Ed
The Alabama Gazette said, “Luther Strange’s selective prosecution has not been hidden and has surprisingly been noted by rank and file Alabama voters. The average citizen, even the Tea Partiers, are aware that all of the Indian casinos as well as Greene County gaming facilities are open.”
“Yet, the one with the largest out of state allure and the state’s crown jewel casino, Victoryland, in Macon County is closed down.”
The article continued, “The Macon County track has the strongest constitutional amendment of all locations. The people of Macon County approved it overwhelmingly and any high level federal tribunal void of Alabama politics would laugh at Bob Riley’s and Luther Strange’s heavy handed political grandstanding. There have also been over 2,000 jobs lost in one of Alabama’s poorer counties.”
Thus, Luther Strange has harmed 2,000 families in and around Macon County, simply to pursue his own political goals. Even members of his own party have noted his actions are senseless. The only sense one can make is to ascribe selfishness and corruption to his legal stand, when even his most ardent supporters criticize his decisions. It hardly matters what people think, until a few officials lose their job, due to their arrogance.
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