On Wednesday, Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange released a copy of his response to a request from United States Attorney George Beck, who asked for clarification on the state’s position on the legality of electronic bingo machines in the state March 21. The request specifically requested information regarding gaming on tribal and non-tribal property.
In the letter, Strange notes that Beck’s request likely stemmed from a lawsuit between Strange and Tuskegee Mayor Johnny Ford. Ford sured Strange “several years ago,” but the suit was eventually dropped and Ford’s attorney sanctioned for filing a “legally frivolous lawsuit.”
Strange goes on to note that neither “electronic bingo” or “bingo machines” appear in the Code of Alabama and only defines an illegal gambling device as “any device, machine, paraphernalia or equipment that is normally used or usable in the playing phases of any gambling activity, whether that activity consists of gambling between persons or gambling by a person involving the playing of a machine.”
The Alabama Code further defines slot machines as “a gambling device that, as a result of the insertion of a coin or other object, operated, either completely automatically or which the aid of some physical act by the play, in such manner that, depending upon elements of chance, it may eject something of value,” a tenet that essentially outlaws electronic bingo machines in the state.
Strange’s response goes continues that tribal gaming is overseen by the federal government and the National Indian Gaming Commission has ruled that federal law allows for electronic bingo machines to be operated on native land despite a state ban on the instruments.
The response references multiple court rulings that have upheld Alabama’s stance that bingo machines are in fact illegal gambling devices, including a 2009 ruling from the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama. That court ruled that the way bingo machines operate “compel[s]the conclusion that the electronic bingo games at issue in this case constitute illegal slot machines under Alabama law.” In 2012, the Jefferson County Circuit Court found that “the devices before the Court are slot machines or gambling devices proscribed” by the Code of Alabama. The Houston County Circuit Court, and eventually the Alabama Supreme Court, came to the same conclusion.
Strange notes his office negotiated memoranda of understanding (MOUs) with multiple out-of-state slot-
machine companies in 2011, which required those companies to remove their devices from Alabama’s jurisdiction or “suffer civil and criminal penalties.”
These entities have nothing to do with a tribal-state compact, as such a compact is an agreement between a tribe and a state. However, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, which currently operates casinos in Atmore, Wetumpka and Montgomery, is not a party to any of those MOUs.
Strange added that gambling regulators in other states have imposed fines on some slot-machine companies for their participation in illegal gambling in Alabama prior to 2011.