Gov. Robert Bentley seeks comprehensive review of gambling in Alabama, forms new Gaming Council

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Gov. Robert Bentley is calling for a comprehensive review of gambling in Alabama, with the formation of a panel to provide recommendations that could lead to substantial changes in how gaming is addressed throughout the state.

On Monday, Bentley signed Executive Order 24, creating the Alabama Advisory Council on Gaming. The job of the council will be to examine both state and local laws on gambling, taxes generated, and evaluate the best practices on gambling in other states, as well as compare Alabama to federal legislation governing gaming.

According to the governor’s official website, the board will include seven appointments by the governor, two from the Alabama House of Representatives — named by the House Speaker; one Democrat and one Republican — two appointments from the Alabama Senate chosen  by the Senate President Pro Tem (one from each party as well) and additional appointments “as the governor deems necessary.”

Also, the council will include a member of the Alabama Sheriffs Association and one from the Alabama District Attorneys Association, each appointed by the governor.

Alabama has long struggled with the issue of gambling, as lawmakers faced several bills this year aimed at loosening gambling laws, allowing the state to take part in the lucrative gaming industry.

Although several bills had made headway through the Legislature, Alabama Today has reported earlier that few have gained traction during the 2016 Legislative Session, which was “marred in controversy over ill-fated budgets and sexually explicit recordings.”

In August, the Greene County Circuit Court sided with the state of the of Alabama over controversial seizures of electronic bingo machines at the Frontier Bingo of Knoxville. In March 2014, Alabama law enforcement officers raided several casinos in Greene County, seizing cash and more than 1,000 illegal bingo machines. The raids and subsequent ending of bingo operations were “extremely detrimental to the quality of life” in the region, according to some community leaders.

Another salvo in the battle over gambling was fired by the VictoryLand Casino, which reopened despite a ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court shutting down electronic bingo operations for nearly three years, The Shorter casino has been shuttered since 2013 when a raid by the state took 1,615 gambling machines and $260,000 in cash.

The Supreme Court said in March that casino owners were passing off games as “bingo,” and the machines were illegal.

Nevertheless, in August, VictoryLand owner Milton McGregor announced the state closure itself was illegal, and the casino reopened in September, without any immediate threat from local law enforcement.

“While it has taken longer than we hoped,” McGregor said, “the time is now here, and we are pleased that hundreds of our people will have a new job, and VictoryLand will be generating a badly needed shot in the arm for Tuskegee and this entire region of Alabama.”

In November 2015, Bentley rescinded an executive order disbanding his predecessor’s gambling task force, transferring enforcement powers to the office of Attorney Gen. Luther Strange.

Strange had also pushed hard against gambling, mainly daily fantasy sports leagues operating in the state. Earlier this year, Strange had sent cease and desist letters to FanDuel and DraftKings, calling DFS “illegal gambling.”

“As attorney general, it is my duty to uphold Alabama law, including the laws against illegal gambling,” Strange said in April. “Daily fantasy sports operators claim that they operate legally under Alabama law. However, paid daily fantasy sports contests are in fact illegal gambling under Alabama law.”

The state’s attitude on gambling could change considerably, based on the recommendations of the newly formed Gaming Council.

“Gaming in Alabama has been a long-term subject of dispute and controversy,” Bentley said in a statement. “This council will work to provide a fresh perspective on past efforts and a clear path forward as it pertains to gaming in the State of Alabama.”

Bentley said he will soon name the appointees and set a date for the council’s first meeting.

The board has been given a Jan. 31, 2017 deadline to present findings and recommendations on gambling to the Governor, the Senate President Pro Tem, and House Speaker.

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