An expert hired by the Macon County sheriff said Wednesday that the machines at VictoryLand play electronic bingo, are not slot machines, and are legal in Macon County.
“I accept these machines as legal. How clear can it be that these machines play bingo?” Sheriff David Warren said Wednesday.
Rich Williamson of BMM, which tests electronic gambling machines throughout the world, said “these games meet all the standards that are required for a device to be operable in this county.”
Williamson, who directed the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement’s testing laboratory for 22 years, demonstrated how the machines operate to the media and to local officials on Wednesday.
“These games are different from slot machines,” he said.
Williamson said the sheriff wants to ensure play is with a minimum of two players and, along with attorney James Anderson, who represents Warren, demonstrated the machines not working without at least two people playing. Also, he said, the reels and other entertainment have nothing to do with the outcome.
“You don’t need this part … The outcome of the game is on the bingo card,” Williamson said. He said the cards are not paper, but are electronic.
Anderson said some people cannot get past the appearance, but he compared it to a truck and said someone cannot tell if it is a diesel or gasoline vehicle without looking under the hood.
But Attorney General Luther Strange, former Gov. Bob Riley and some other officials believe the machines at VictoryLand and other casinos in the state are slot machines, which are illegal in the state. Strange, as VictoryLand owner Milton McGregor and his attorneys have continued with plans to reopen the casino by the end of this month, has said he will enforce the rule of law in the state.
In a statement released Wednesday by his office, Strange said “my duty as attorney general is not to make the law. My duty is to enforce the law, as the Alabama Supreme Court has defined it.”
“Before I was elected to this office, the Supreme Court held that the ‘bingo’ game allowed by the local amendments to the Alabama Constitution is only the game ‘commonly known as bingo,’” Strange said. “The definition of this term ‘bingo,’ which is the language the Macon County amendment uses, does not include the slot machines that previously have been used at VictoryLand and other casinos. Since I took office, I have worked hard to enforce the Alabama Supreme Court’s decisions and to end illegal gambling in an orderly fashion through the court system. I will continue to enforce the rule of law in a consistent manner statewide.”
Anderson, when asked whether the machines met the requirements set by the Alabama Supreme Court in the Cornerstone case, said those requirements applied to Lowndes County, which he said had a faulty constitutional amendment. He said the court did not indicate whether or not electronic bingo could be played in the state.
“These are not slot machines. They cannot become slot machines,” Anderson said.
Anderson said Warren wanted to ensure that when VictoryLand reopened that there was no question the machines were legal and that they were playing bingo. The sheriff, by law, promulgates the rules in Macon County.
“This style of gambling, electronic bingo, it’s pretty wide spread,” Williamson said. He said there are about 80,000 units at about 250 locations in the United States. The machines have been around for about 20 years, Williamson said.
He said the style of machine is used “where bingo is permitted and slot machines are not.”
“It is bingo and it has passed many tests that it is bingo,” Williamson said
When asked if the machines are similar to those used at casinos operated by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, Williamson said “Yes, they work exactly like those games.”
Williamson, who was appointed in 2005 as the first director of Gaming Laboratory Operations for the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, said a slot machine can operate by itself while electronic bingo requires the machines to be operated by a server.
“There is no bingo game in a slot machine and there is no requirement of two players,” he said.
McGregor’s attorneys have said he plans to open by the end of the month.
Joe Espy, attorney for McGregor, said Wednesday that Warren was presenting the demonstration, that McGregor was not there and that they would not be answering questions. He said he would answer questions on Thursday about the plans for reopening VictoryLand. Espy did say the facility “is not ready,” which was apparent with plywood and paper up in portions of the casino.
McGregor closed the facility in August 2010 with looming threats of a raid from a task force formed by Riley. After he was acquitted earlier this year in a federal corruption trial, which alleged he and his lobbyists offered bribes to state lawmakers to pass gambling legislation, McGregor said he would open by the end of the year.
Anderson said the machines operate like those that were in the facility two years ago. Williamson said that the machines, like other types of technology, are regularly updated and that the machines are newer.
Warren said that after he became aware that charities in Macon County wanted to reopen VictoryLand, he said he instructed the manufacturers of the electronic bingo games to submit their machines and related equipment for independent testing at a laboratory approved by him.
The sheriff said he would not allow slots.
Warren, who said he trusted the company that certifies machines all over the world, said the machines play bingo and he does not understand why people, with all of the technological advances in other areas including computers and global positioning systems that help drivers navigate, cannot understand that.
The sheriff said he is not a gambler, but he said he has seen people lose their houses and people who pulled their children out of college after VictoryLand closed. VictoryLand was once the largest employer in Macon County.
“To have these people not be able to work is really a shame, especially when the Indians are doing it,” Warren said. “What is so different about what the Indians are doing and what these machines at VictoryLand are doing?
“I just hope and pray we’re able to resume this industry here and that the people of Macon County are given their jobs back.”
– posted by Sebastian Kitchen