Bingo parlors

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Bingo parlors are businesses which operate gambling games, often at the fringes of legality. They open quickly when conditions are judged favorable, and are frequently targeted by law enforcement agencies who dispute their interpretation of the law. Operators have favored electronic bingo games, including some devices designed to simulate slot machines.

Laws and ordinances

Alabama gambling law

Under the Alabama Constitution of 1901, bingo games and lotteries are generally prohibited. Section 65 reads, "The legislature shall have no power to authorize lotteries or gift enterprises for any purposes, and shall pass laws to prohibit the sale in this state of lottery or gift enterprise tickets, or tickets in any scheme in the nature of a lottery; and all acts, or parts of acts heretofore passed by the legislature of this state, authorizing a lottery or lotteries, and all acts amendatory thereof, or supplemental thereto, are hereby avoided."

Therefore, legal bingo games have only been established by amendment, with amendments generally applying only to single counties or municipalities. Such laws have restricted bingo licenses to established non-profit organizations, operating the games themselves without contracts contingent on revenue. The laws have also established a minimum age of 19 for players and limited hours of operation and prizes to certain maximums.

The gradual transformation of "traditional" paper-based bingo games into arcade-style casinos filled with electronic "gambling devices" accelerated in the early 2000s. On December 1, 2004 Attorney General Troy King toured several such operations, including Milton McGregor's Greenetrack in Greene County, and issued an informal opinion that the electronic devices were lawful so long as they operated like traditional bingo, with multiple players competing against each other (not the house) on a 5x5 grid, with a winner for each game.

Governor Bob Riley created a "Task Force on Illegal Gambling" by Executive order in December 2008. King spoke out against the action, saying that the constitution placed law enforcement authority with his office. The disagreement was settled in Riley's favor by the Alabama State Supreme Court.

In the 2010 legislative session state senator Roger Bedford introduced a bill (SB 380, called the "Sweet Home Alabama Bill") that would schedule a referendum on a statewide amendment to legalize and tax electronic bingo. The bill was not passed. Similar bills, SB-381 introduced by Marc Keahey and SB-515 introduced by Quinton Ross, were debated in the 2012 legislative session, but also did not advance.

The first official act of incoming Governor Robert Bentley was to issue an executive order disbanding Riley's Task Force and restoring responsibility for investigating gambling offenses to the Attorney General's office, now filled by Luther Strange.

In 2015 Bentley reversed himself with a new executive order intended to affirm that local officials should be responsible for regulating gambling establishments.

In October 2017 Attorney General Steve Marshall filed lawsuits in the circuit courts of Greene, Houston, Lowndes, Macon and Morgan Counties seeking to establish that electronic bingo parlors in those counties are unlawful, and asking for preliminary injunctions to classify them as public nuisances and prevent them from operating.

The collection of state sales taxes from electronic bingo at greyhound tracks also remains controversial. The Alabama Tax Tribunal ruled in August 2019 that Greenetrack's tax exemption extended to bingo, but Attorney General Marshall, representing the Alabama Department of Revenue, disputed their interpretation and filed an appeal to collect $76 million in unpaid taxes from 2004 to 2008.

Jefferson County Bingo Act

Passage of the "Jefferson County Bingo Act", enrolled as HB-520 and HB-521 in the 1980 legislative session, led to a county-wide referendum on September 2 of that year. Once approved by the citizens, Amendment No. 386 was added to the state constitution, and Act No. 80-609, which detailed the terms and restrictions, was entered into state law. The constitution was further amended by Amendment No. 600, giving local governments the authority to set prize limits.

Under the authority of that legislation, the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office began regulating bingo parlors in the county in addition to regulations created and enforced by the county's various municipalities.

On September 20, 2007 Jefferson County District Attorney David Barber wrote an opinion that Amendment No. 386 failed to give authority to the state legislature to pass the relevant law or delegate authority to the county, and that therefore only authority to regulate bingo games in Jefferson County, so long as they complied with the language of the amendment, was held by Jefferson County's municipalities.

Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Scott Vowell overruled Barber's opinion on March 11, 2009. On September 9 Sheriff Mike Hale issued a package of "Promulgated Bingo Rules and Regulations, for Jefferson County, Alabama," notifying all bingo operators in the county that they would need to register with the Sheriff's office. Many such operators within towns and cities, rejected the Sheriff's notice, claiming that their municipal licenses exempted them from the county's regulation.

On October 21, 2009 Barber's successor as District Attorney, Brandon Falls, sent letters to several bingo operators notifying them that, "it is my firm belief that you are in possession of illegal slot machines and are running a business that is operating in violation of Amendment 386," and giving them 10 days to remove all such machines and suspend all for-profit activities to avoid legal action. A lawsuit was filed on behalf of a number of operators who received such notices. The Alabama State Supreme Court affirmed Vowell's ruling and dismissed claims against the Sheriff and District Attorney, but also found the specific provision of the law granting authority to the Sheriff's Office to issue permits, "in addition to and not in lieu of any other permits or licenses which may be required by the county or any political subdivision thereof," was not constitutional, leaving it up to the legislature and the Jefferson County Commission to establish regulations to be enforced outside the jurisdiction of individual cities.

Sheriff Hale continued to enforce state gambling laws inside municipalities that had allowed bingo parlors to open. The City of Fairfield filed a lawsuit seeking to enjoin the Sheriff's office from raiding such businesses in the Bessemer Cutoff area. Judge Eugene Verin, citing the state's non-interference in large-scale electronic bingo games in Greene County, issued an order on March 21, 2011 which allowed the affected businesses to reopen. On April 4 the Sheriff's office raided the Anchor Club in Brighton and padlocked the building with 500 machines inside. District Attorney Brandon Falls requested several municipal governments to turn over information regarding bingo licenses in their cities.

Local bingo ordinances

In August 2011 the Lucky Duck Bingo operation at Midfield Plaza Shopping Center was granted a license by the city of Midfield which included a one-time fee of $15,000 and a $100 per machine per month ongoing fee, all of which was nonrefundable in case the business was closed down by law enforcement.

In February 2019 the City of Graysville, seeking a source of revenue to replace the loss of a Lowe's home improvement store, passed a new bingo ordinance which included a "Class B" license for non-paper based bingo games. Newly-elected Jefferson County Sheriff Mark Pettway (whose brother was associated with the "Spin It and Win It Charity Bingo" in Graysville) stated that his department would not focus on investigating gambling complaints. Additional bingo parlors soon opened in Brighton and elsewhere. On the basis that electronic bingo machines were still illegal devices, Attorney General of Alabama Steve Marshall ordered raids of four establishments on April 9.

List of bingo parlors

This list is incomplete and may never satisfy any subjective standard for completeness. You can help Bhamwiki by expanding it.

Bessemer Super Highway

Chalkville Road / Grayson Valley Parkway

Forestdale Boulevard / Adamsville Parkway / U.S. Highway 78

Parkway East / Center Point Parkway / Pinson Valley Parkway

Other locations

References

  • Morton, Jason (January 29, 2009) "Bingo machines illegal, Riley says" The Tuscaloosa News
  • Griffin, Lance (February 21, 2010) "Timeline: Bingo start to finish" Dothan Eagle
  • Webb, Marcus (March 31, 2010) "Alabama Bingo Brawl Reaches New Heights." Vending Times
  • Chorba-Lee Scholarship Fund, Inc., et al. v. Sheriff Mike Hale et al. (September 30, 2010) Alabama State Supreme Court
  • Faulk, Kent (April 4, 2011) "Jefferson County sheriff's deputies shut down Brighton bingo hall." The Birmingham News
  • Rawls, Phillip (November 26, 2012) "Alabama gambling machines to be destroyed." Associated Press
  • Whitmire, Kyle (November 5, 2015) "Benedict Bentley's betrayal could end Alabama's gambling wars." The Birmingham News
  • Robinson, Carol (March 22, 2019) "Sheriff: Fighting violent crime, not electronic gambling, is priority for Jeffco investigators." The Birmingham News
  • Beahm, Anna (March 29, 2019) "Graysville mayor hopes bingo will replace lost revenue from Lowe’s." The Birmingham News
  • Hrynkiw, Ivana (April 9, 2019) "Alabama Attorney General’s Office raids 4 Jefferson County bingo halls, at least 11 people arrested." The Birmingham News
  • Cason, Mike (October 4, 2017) "Alabama AG Steve Marshall sues to shut down electronic bingo casinos." The Birmingham News
  • Cason, Mike (October 1, 2019) "Attorney General Steve Marshall files appeal seeking $76 million from Greenetrack." The Birmingham News