AG Marshall files civil lawsuits to combat illegal gambling

AG Marshall files civil lawsuits to combat illegal gambling

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall announced Oct. 4 that he is pursuing legal action against casinos in five counties where illegal slot machines continue to operate.

“It is the responsibility of the attorney general to ensure that Alabama’s laws are enforced, including those laws that prohibit illegal gambling,” Marshall said in a press release announcing the lawsuits. “Through multiple rulings in recent years, the Alabama Supreme Court has made it abundantly clear that electronic bingo and the use of slot machines are illegal in all Alabama counties. Therefore, we have taken action to hold accountable those who defy the laws of our state.”

Civil lawsuits were filed in Greene, Houston, Lowndes, Macon and Morgan counties against the operating casinos, machine manufacturers and vendors, and the governmental authorities responsible for licensing and overseeing electronic bingo operations in those counties.

The lawsuits call upon local circuit courts to prohibit the defendants from promoting, operating and transporting so-called “electronic bingo” machines and slot machines in those counties. The State also filed motions requesting that the circuit courts grant preliminary injunctions to cease unlawful gambling operations in these counties while the lawsuits are pending.

Joe Godfrey, executive director of Alabama Citizens Action Program (ALCAP), praised the attorney general’s actions.

‘Upholding the law’

“We applaud what he is doing, which is upholding the law,” Godfrey said. “We are confident that the state Supreme Court will once again rule that these are illegal slot machines.”

Godfrey said he was disappointed when former Gov. Robert Bentley instructed then-Attorney General Luther Strange to leave prosecution of such cases to local law enforcement officials.

Following that instruction several casinos reopened in the state, including VictoryLand in Macon County and Greenetrack in Greene County.

“It appears the attorney general’s office is doing what they should have been doing all along and that is enforcing the law,” Godfrey said.

The lawsuits filed Oct. 4 are the result of ongoing investigations into casino and gambling operations around the state, an effort Marshall said he has been involved in since taking office in February when Strange was appointed to the U.S. Senate by Bentley.

Different approach

Marshall is taking a different approach than past attorneys general by filing civil lawsuits instead of criminal cases, said Eric Johnston, a Birmingham lawyer who represents ALCAP and other organizations on gambling-related issues.

The civil complaints call for the closure of the casinos because “the illegal gambling they offer presents legal nuisances in the state.”

According to Alabama law, a public nuisance is one which damages all persons who come within the sphere of its operation, though it may vary in its effects on individuals. A public nuisance generally must be addressed by a process instituted in the name of the state, as Marshall is doing through these lawsuits.

A civil case allows Marshall to get an injunction to put the casinos permanently out of business rather than pursuing case after case through the criminal court system, Johnston said.

“This approach hasn’t been tried before,” Johnston said.

Alabama officials have pursued numerous cases over the past five years to bring clarity and enforcement to the anti-gambling laws of the state. The Alabama Supreme Court has repeatedly determined that the game of bingo cannot be played on electronic devices and that machines claiming to be electronic bingo are in fact slot machines and therefore illegal in Alabama, Johnston said.

“It’s a criminal act they are committing,” Johnston said. “The Alabama Supreme Court has said over and over that these are unlawful machines. I’m very happy now to see Marshall go after casino operators.”