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State’s lawsuits reinstated against Macon County, Lowndes County casinos

The Supreme Court of Alabama on Friday ruled in favor of the State of Alabama, allowing its civil litigation to proceed against so-called electronic bingo operations in Macon and Lowndes Counties.

There are two nearly identical cases, one in each county, in which the State of Alabama through the Attorney General’s Office has brought public nuisance suits against local casinos as well as Epic Tech LLC, an electronic gaming vendor whose machines are utilized by the facilities in question. Electronic bingo machines, which are essentially slot machines, have been confirmed as illegal by the Supreme Court.

The defendants in the Macon County case are Epic Tech, Macon County Sheriff Andre Brunson and VictoryLand Casino. In Lowndes County, defendants are Epic Tech, White Hall Entertainment, Southern Star Casino and the Town of White Hall.

The cases were consolidated into one opinion by the Supreme Court. The opinion, written by Associate Justice Kelli Wise, was unanimous in result, as no justices dissented.

The Supreme Court overturned respective lower court rulings that initially dismissed Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall’s lawsuits.

The lawsuits assert that the named facilities operate illegal slot machines and thus are unlawful gambling activities. The attorney general sought court orders in the respective counties to have these operations declared a public nuisance and to enjoin their continued operation by the facilities and local officials who have allegedly allowed such operations to continue.

The Attorney General’s Office wrote the following in the lawsuits:

… Defendants’ gambling devices are slot machines completely reliant on games of chance. Someone who wants to play one of Defendants’ gambling devices can insert money directly into the face of the machine and/or load money onto a swipe card that the player inserts into the machine. The player then presses a button to bet a certain amount of money. Once the bet is placed, the player presses a button to start the spinning of slot reels that appear on the gambling devices. On the machines, the slot reels are digital; simulating the mechanical reels found on traditional slot machines. Seconds later, the machine displays the game’s result. If the customer wins, then his or her credits go up; if not, the credits go down. The player can then either play again or cash out to receive money for any credits he or she has remaining.

… All it takes to operate the gambling devices at Defendants’ casinos is a touch of a button. With a touch of a button, the machines initiate a game and/or bring that game to conclusion.

… Defendants’ devices may display a small ‘bingo card’ to the side, below, or above the slot reels. However, the predominant display on all Defendants’ gambling devices is a large, digital or mechanical representation of ‘reels’ commonly seen on acknowledged slot machines.

… Defendants’ gambling devices replicate a game of chance in an electronic format. There is no interaction between players. There is no competition to be the first person who covers a bingo card. No player must call out ‘bingo.’ There is no holder of a bingo card who covers randomly drawn numbers on the card. No player can ‘sleep a bingo’ or forfeit a prize based on his or her failure to recognize a predetermined winning pattern. The player does not need to pay attention, listen to alphanumeric designations drawn one-by-one, or match them up to a bingo card. Instead the player presses a single button, watches slot-machine reels spin, and is told whether he or she has won by the gambling device. As such, as the Supreme Court of Alabama has held, the machines are illegal and not permitted to play the game commonly known as bingo in Alabama.

… Defendants’ gambling devices play like, look like, sound like, and attract the same class of customers as acknowledged slot machines.

The Supreme Court’s opinion outlined how the two local courts completely erred in dismissing the cases.

One eyeopening part of the opinion came when Wise revealed that the Macon County judge, in originally dismissing the case, argued that Alabama’s ban on gambling, which is written explicitly in the state constitution, should not be enforced.

“Other laws are broken daily in Macon County such as the laws imposing a speed limit which are readily ignored by members of the public, specifically on I-85, and the State is fully knowledgeable of the ongoing violations,” the local judge asserted. “However, there is no effort to enjoin the committing of other crimes.”

The Macon County judge further claimed the power to pick which laws are enforced and which are not.

“As such, the Court would exercise its discretion by refusing to enjoin Defendants’ conduct…” the judge continued.

Nevertheless, Attorney General Marshall on Friday advised that his office will continue to seek injunctions to permanently halt the gaming operations by the named entities in each county.

“For too long, these individuals, businesses, and even elected officials have flagrantly violated Alabama’s laws,” stated Marshall. “Today’s ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court is an important victory for the rule of law. We will now move forward to uphold the State’s laws and provide justice for the people of Alabama.”

It should be noted that the Supreme Court sent extensive, clear guidance on the relevant law back to the lower courts to use in weighing the cases. The Supreme Court opinion further said that the Macon County judge’s dismissal had perhaps — ironically — actually supported the State’s position.

“The Macon Circuit Court’s findings in this regard appear to go to the merits of the State’s claim for injunctive relief. However, the Macon Circuit Court did not conduct a hearing on the State’s motions for a preliminary or permanent injunction. Rather, it specifically stated that it was considering only the motions to dismiss filed by the Macon County defendants. Therefore, it appears that any such finding is premature,” the opinion read.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

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