Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

GUEST COLUMNIST: Bingo, Gambling and the Rule of Law

Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

GUEST COLUMNIST: Bingo, Gambling and the Rule of Law

Article excerpt

For years, Alabamians have read news articles, listened to radio talk shows or spoken to politicians about gambling in the state. Even so, the issue seems to be a significant source of confusion about policy, politics and the rule of law.

The gambling conversation has percolated again after Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange raided the VictoryLand casino and filed suit against the gambling operations of the Poarch Creek Indians earlier this year.

With certain exceptions, Alabama law prohibits gambling. But because many seem to be confused about what is and what is not gambling, virtually every aspect of gambling has been even further clarified by the courts.

Slot and video poker machines clearly fall within the purview of Alabama's gaming prohibitions, but gambling establishment operators have become creative in their attempt to keep the doors open and the dollars flowing. Alabama law permits bingo for charitable purposes in certain counties. Gambling operators have availed themselves of the charitable bingo provisions by essentially casting slot machines as instances of electronic bingo.

This prompted the Alabama Supreme Court to issue opinions in 2009 and 2010 establishing six elements for identifying "bingo." Anyone with an ounce of common sense should know the difference between a slot machine and the game of bingo, but in Alabama, we have a legal test for it.

To further complicate matters, Indian gambling operators assert that their operations are governed by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act under the authority of the National Indian Gaming Commission. As such, they claim that their operations are exempt from state law and state law enforcement.

IGRA specifically states that Indian tribes only have the exclusive right to regulate gaming activity if it is "conducted within a state that does not ... prohibit such gaming activity." IGRA also excludes slot machines from its definition of "bingo."

Much like their state-based counterparts, Indian gambling operators have argued that their slot machines are actually electronic bingo machines. The only important difference is that they argue that Indian operators are exempt from the Alabama Supreme Court's test to determine the difference between the two gaming devices. …

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