An Alabama county judge has issued an injunction against VictoryLand Casino for its illegal use of electronic bingo machines, enforcing the state Supreme Court’s ruling against the machines in September 2022. Macon County Circuit Court Judge Steven Perryman’s order states that VictoryLand cannot have the devices on its premises, profit from them, or transfer them to other locations within the county.
The injunction is a welcome one for Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, who is vocal in his anti-gambling stance. Marshall accused VictoryLand of engaging in illegal activity after the September decision by the state’s Supreme Court. He has pointed out that other facilities have complied with the Supreme Court’s ruling and have already shut down their operations of electronic bingo machines.
Bingo Machines or Slots by Any Other Name?
In 2003, Macon County voters approved a constitutional amendment to permit bingo. Proponents of electronic bingo claim that the referendum was held with the understanding that it encompassed electronic bingo. However, last year, the Alabama Supreme Court chose to interpret “bingo” to mean only the traditional paper-based game, rejecting the inclusion of electronic variants.
Such devices award prizes based on a simulated game of bingo but present the results in a fashion that resembles a slot machine. Around the US, they’re a staple of Class II tribal casinos in areas that don’t permit full Class III casino gaming.
In September 2022, with a 9-0 unanimous vote, Alabama’s highest court ruled that electronic bingo machines are illegal gambling devices due to their similarity to real money slots.
Alabama is a socially conservative state with strong anti-gambling views. It’s one of only five states (perhaps soon to be just four) without a lottery. Aside from bingo, the only legal gambling in the state is pari-mutuel betting on horse and dog racing, both live and simulcast, in Greene, Jefferson, Macon, and Mobile counties.
Judge Perryman wrote that the injunction can only be lifted if Alabama explicitly legalizes the games.
Is Alabama Moving in the Wrong Direction with Gambling?
Many states across the US, even conservative ones, are warming up to gambling. Sports betting is legal in over 30 states, while six states allow online casinos. Additionally, the lottery is legal in 45 states, some even offering online games. However, Alabama remains isolated and seems to want no part of that.
Some reasons for Alabama’s prohibition of gambling include cultural and religious factors. The state has a strong conservative and religious influence. Many people in the state adhere to traditional religious beliefs that view gambling as morally wrong or harmful. Also, gambling opponents argue it can increase social issues such as addiction, crime, and financial hardship.
Additionally, the Alabama Constitution explicitly prohibits most forms of gambling. Amending the constitution to allow expanded gambling would require a statewide referendum, which has been a challenging process in the past due to differing opinions within the state. The reasons mentioned above show why many lawmakers are trying to block further expansion and even prohibit existing gambling, like electronic bingo machines. The state even tried to shut down electronic bingo machines in tribal casinos but with no luck.
But that doesn’t stop some lawmakers from attempting to pass a yearly gambling bill since 2019.
Some Lawmakers Believe Gambling Expansion in Alabama is Possible
While the state is notoriously anti-gambling, some lawmakers are attempting to pass new gambling expansion bills. They realize Alabama is losing tax revenue to neighboring states like Tennessee and Mississippi, which allow sports betting in some form.
The 2023 legislative session could see multiple proposals and changes to previous attempts to legalize sports betting and other gambling expansion. However, like in previous years, these attempts will face challenges from lawmakers and powerful lobbyists.
What’s different this year is that high-ranking political figures show some support. Gov.Kay Ivey supports the legalization of sports betting. Meanwhile, House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter said he wouldn’t stand in the way if a good bill were put together. The state Senate already approved a gambling bill in 2021, so chances are it would do again if the right bill came to a vote.