In March this year, 105 bingo gaming machines were seized in a raid on the White Hall entertainment Center in Lowndes County. The operator of the gaming center, Cornerstone Community Outreach made several moves to avert more raids, which prompted Gov. Bob Riley through his Governor’s Task Force to turn to the court to request for a ruling on the legality of the machines. Last month, after almost a year of debate on the classification and legality of the machines, the court finally ruled that the so-called “electronic bingo machines” are in fact an illegal form of gambling, and they “operate almost exactly like slot machines” which are illegal in Alabama. The court likewise made a list of six features distinctive to the traditional game of bingo.
As a result of the court ruling and the half-dozen distinguishing traits of bingo established by the court, Alabama’s major gaming centers including the Country Crossing, Victoryland, and the White Hall Gaming Center are now altering their bingo machines to conform to the level acceptable by the court. In order for the machines to be considered bingo, the games must announce and display balls one at a time, must call for players to pay attention to the drawn balls and mark their cards correctly, refuse to pay players who don’t focus on the game, and have players competing against each other, not against the machine.
But the reconfigured machines still had the slot-like qualities like the blinking lights and the rotating reels, and the Governor’s office is not satisfied, saying the changes the casinos have made to the machines are not much, and the Task Force could be preparing to conduct more raids. “It just seems so ridiculous to me that they’re still arguing that this is bingo,” Todd Stacy, Riley’s press secretary said. “It doesn’t pass the smell test.”
They officials in the governor’s office say that if the machines accept and eject money, which is what the state describes slot machines, they may still be illegal, even if the machines are altered extensively. “I don’t care if you’re playing tic-tac-toe,” Stacy said, “if you’re playing it on a slot machine in Alabama, it’s illegal.” They also argued that the casino operators are trying to broadly interpret the rules allowing bingo, when the court wants the rules to be “narrowly construed.”
When asked if the governor’s office is poised to conduct more raids on casinos soon, the Deputy Legal Advisor replied, “We’ll wait and see.”