27TH JUN 2016 | WRITTEN BY: CHRIS SIEROTY
A circuit court judge in Alabama has ruled that Greene County’s bingo amendment protects electronic bingo games played in local casinos, specifically Greenetrack, a ruling the state attorney general has said he will appeal to the Alabama Supreme Court.
Judge Houston Brown also ordered the state to return 825 electronic bingo machines seized in a raid at Greenetrack on July 1, 2010.
Brown, who was appointed by the Alabama Supreme Court to hear the case, ruled that Greene County’s 2003 constitutional amendment legalizing bingo in the county was the only one that “defines both bingo and bingo equipment … and includes the term ‘electronic marking devices’ within the definition of bingo.”
“Based upon the great weight of evidence, which was largely undisputed by the state, the court finds that the games at issue were and are authorized by Amendment 743 (Greene County),” Brown wrote in his 24-page ruling.
Brown also wrote that expert testimony during the trial proved that the electronic bingo games in question met the bingo test laid out by the state Supreme Court in its 2009 Cornerstone ruling.
The decision issued Wednesday follows years of court cases involving the raid and the electronic bingo machines. Brown gave the state 30 days to return “all seized equipment and records” to Greenetrack.
Although the decision was a win for Greenetrack, the Alabama Supreme Court has consistently ruled that the electronic gambling machines are illegal under state law.
Attorney General Luther Strange said he will appeal the case to the Alabama Supreme Court.
“The Greene County Circuit Court’s decision in the Greenetrack case ignores the law as made crystal clear by the Alabama Supreme court as recently as March 31,” Strange said in a statement.
“As in the other illegal gambling cases, we will file a motion to stay the ruling and follow that with an appeal to the Alabama Supreme Court and abide by its final decision,” the state attorney general said.
Strange’s statement referenced the state Supreme Court’s ruling in March against VictoryLand in a forfeiture case that said the state acted within the law in conducting a raid on the casino’s electronic bingo hall.
The Alabama Supreme Court overturned an October ruling by Macon County Circuit Court Judge William Shashy, saying the judge was “fatally flawed” in his ruling that VictoryLand should be allowed to resume operations since other electronic bingo facilities are still in operation.
The 8-0 unanimous decision meant the state could destroy more than 1,200 electronic bingo machines it confiscated and keep more than $200,000 in cash it seized from VictoryLand.
VictoryLand owner Milton McGregor promised to reopen the bingo complex in early summer, but the complex is now hoping for an October launch. Currently, VictoryLand is open for simulcasts of greyhound and thoroughbred racing from racetracks across the U.S.
Meanwhile, Brown noted in his Greenetrack ruling that the state presented only a “lay expert” to counter the testimony of the gambling complex’s expert witnesses. The judge also wrote that when questioned, the state’s expert admitted that he would find the games illegal even if they met every standard in the Cornerstone ruling.
The Alabama Supreme Court issued the Cornerstone ruling on November 13, 2009, setting out six defining characteristics of the game of bingo as authorized by the state’s constitution.
The Cornerstone ruling requirements include games are played on cards, numbers be randomly drawn, players physically mark their cards, players play against each other and announce their wins.
Brown wrote that Greenetrack’s expert witnesses were able to prove that the games in question met each of those requirements, even if done so electronically.
Luther Winn Jr., CEO of Greenetrack, was unavailable for comment Friday. Greenetrack is located in Eutaw, Alabama, which is about 88 miles west of Birmingham.
Greenetrack is similar to VictoryLand in that it also offers simulcast of greyhound racing and thoroughbred horseracing from tracks across the county.
Besides bringing cases against VictoryLand and Greenetrack, Strange has also targeted daily fantasy sports (DFS), issuing cease and desist letters in April to FanDuel and DraftKings.
Both DFS companies immediately pulled out of Alabama.
FanDuel and DraftKings issued statements disagreeing with the attorney general’s decision to issue the letter after reviewing the state’s gambling statutes and determining that “paid daily fantasy sports constitutes illegal gambling.”