Barring some significant changes, three Alabama bingo halls will have to shut down their machines or risk prosecution by the end of October 2022. The Alabama attorney general is pressing the matter of the legality of electronic bingo machines at the facilities.
While the immediate effect of the notice could mean the end of the line for the three sites named in the statement. It also could be a harbinger of a similar fate for another facility offering electronic bingo games.
This development could alter the content of legislation aiming to expand gambling in Alabama, too.
AG tells Alabama bingo halls to shut it all down
On Sept. 30, Alabama attorney general Steve Marshall issued a notice of a decision from the state’s supreme court. The case was Alabama v. Epic Tech, LLC.
Marshall calls the ruling “a major victory for the enforcement of Alabama’s gambling laws” and relays its meaning for three bingo halls in the state.
Essentially, Marshall says the decision means the electronic bingo machines at these three facilities are illegal:
- Southern Star
- White Hall
Marshall adds that grants “the State of Alabama’s request to prohibit the casinos from offering” gambling to patrons.
Thus, the companies operating those machines at these facilities now have a choice between shutting down the machines indefinitely or risking criminal prosecution.
Given how quickly Marshall issued this statement after the court ruled, it seems almost guaranteed that Marshall would prosecute at some point. That especially applies if the bingo halls were to continue to offer electronic games.
The ruling also further reinforces that in the eyes of the state, only bingo games played on actual physical cards are legal in certain parts of the state. An amendment to the state’s constitution allows each county to decide for itself whether to allow bingo games with a charitable component within its boundaries.
The Southern Star and White Hall both sit within Lowndes County while Victoryland occupies a spot in Macon County. This announcement could have ramifications for a similar facility in another county and actually, Marshall hints at exactly that.
Could this be a bad sign for other bingo halls in Alabama?
Marshall points toward an answer to that question in his statement.
“The Attorney General’s separate lawsuit to cease illegal gambling at the Greenetrack casino in Greene County continues to be adjudicated in court.”
Given the state supreme court’s opinion on electronic bingo machines in Lowndes and Macon counties, the fate of that litigation doesn’t look great for Greenetrack. It could only be a matter of time before Marshall issues a similar statement naming that facility.
While Greenetrack’s operations might comply with Greene County ordinances, the Supreme Court could again rule that only physical bingo games fit within the confines of state law, which supersedes any county provisions.
Right now it’s unclear if any of these bingo halls will continue or start to offer paper games. Alternatively, they could simply close up shop due to this development. The best hope for the future of electronic bingo games in Alabama appears to now be the state’s legislature.
State legislature could intervene to expand legal gambling in Alabama
In theory, if Alabama’s gambling laws restrict electronic bingo machines then a possible path forward is changing state laws. Alabama’s legislature has been active on the issue of gaming recently.
In the last session, a potential constitutional amendment to expand legal gambling in Alabama almost passed the senate. That legislation did not explicitly address the legality of electronic bingo machines. Either way, new legislation in the next session could do so.
Alabama Sen. Greg Albritton, the sponsor of the aforementioned legislation, has said he plans to try again in 2023. Whether he would include a provision that legalizes electronic bingo is unclear right now.
Barring such a change, it looks like Marshall is intent on shutting down electronic bingo games in Alabama. If the legislature doesn’t intervene, it appears the state’s highest court is behind him.