Illegal gambling in Jefferson County going unchallenged by Dem sheriff
Jefferson County’s new sheriff, Democrat Mark Pettway, is drawing intense scrutiny over non-enforcement of state gaming laws in his county.
Last week, Walker County law enforcement officials cracked down on a host of new illegal gambling facilities in their jurisdiction, and in doing so publicly emphasized that they did not want their gaming situation to devolve into what Jefferson County faces.
While Attorney General Steve Marshall commended Walker County officials for their actions, Jefferson County is under a much less enviable microscope.
In a recent letter to Pettway, Marshall recounted a conversation the two had on the subject of “electronic bingo” machines and the facilities in Jefferson County that are hosting them.
“As we discussed, I received information that several individuals previously connected to illegal gambling operations were planning to open ‘electronic bingo’ facilities in Jefferson County. At that time, you informed me that you were unaware of any such plans or operations. Since our conversation, I have been informed that multiple facilities offering illegal gambling have either opened or intend to open in Jefferson County,” the attorney general wrote.
Marshall continued, “On the issue of ‘electronic bingo,’ let me be clear. The Supreme Court of Alabama has consistently held that no local amendment or law permits bingo or other games of chance to be played on machines in this State. More recent opinions of the court have further underscored that the game of bingo cannot be legally played on electronic machines in Alabama. As such, these machines are illegal under Alabama law and subject to forfeiture. Moreover, because the highest court has been abundantly clear on this issue, each of us who has taken an oath to uphold the laws of this State are obligated to follow the court’s rulings.”
“As has been previously conveyed to sheriffs and district attorneys around the State, your role in your county is to enforce the law—it is the court’s role to interpret it,” he added. “As law enforcement officials, we are responsible for enforcing the law regardless of our personal preferences and relationships or those of our constituents.”
Marshall’s letter was dated March 11. However, Pettway has apparently not followed the attorney general’s call-to-action.
In an interview Wednesday on WVTM, Marshall advised that these problems had been handled properly by the longtime previous sheriff, Mike Hale.
“I don’t understand why when Sheriff Hale had the opportunity to be able to do it with the resources available to him, that the new sheriff can’t do the same thing,” the attorney general lamented.
Additionally, District Attorney for the Bessemer Cutoff Lynneice Washington recently issued cease and desist orders to known Jefferson County electronic bingo facilities, affirming that Marshall is indeed correct and they are operating illegally. Yet, she told WVTM that without enforcement by the sheriff’s office or a municipal police force, her orders cannot stop the illegal activity from occurring.
WVTM reported that Pettway has claimed he is leaving enforcement of gaming laws up to municipalities. This includes the City of Brighton, which only has three police officers on its force, and the City of Graysville, which does not even have a police department.
At the end of WVTM’s report, they walked up to Pettway at a public appearance and asked him about the electronic bingo operations in Jefferson County.
“Despite our multiple attempts, Sheriff Pettway will not answer any questions about bingo,” WVTM said.
Marshall has said, “Should local agencies… fail to enforce State laws on gambling, my office will take action as needed to hold the perpetrators accountable.”
Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn