VictoryLand’s McGregor slams AG Luther Strange over recent comments, Greene County case

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VictoryLand owner Milton McGregor occasionally emerges to make major announcements about his facilities or to criticize state efforts to close his casino.

McGregor released a statement on Tuesday with harsh criticism for Attorney General Luther Strange for his recent comments about the effect of a judge’s ruling in Houston County and for how his office has handled a Greene County case.

VictoryLand owner Milton McGregor at his casino in March 2008. (Mickey Welsh/Montgomery Advertiser)

VictoryLand owner Milton McGregor at his casino in March 2008. (Mickey Welsh/Montgomery Advertiser)

“Regardless of what the AG may say in his press releases, the Houston County decision on electronic bingo has absolutely no bearing on Macon County,” McGregor said in a statement. “… What the AG will not tell you is that the Macon County bingo amendment differs significantly from the Houston County bingo amendment.”McGregor argues that the people of Macon County knew they were voting on electronic bingo when they approved the local constitutional amendment to allow bingo in 2003. The people of the county overwhelmingly approved the amendment, which gives the sheriff the authority to set the rules for the games in that county.

“The sheriff of Macon County adopted rules and regulations to regulate the same type of electronic bingo games the Poarch Creek Indians are currently operating in three different counties in Alabama,” McGregor said in the statement.

A judge in Houston County recently ruled in favor of the state, allowing the state to destroy almost 700 machines confiscated during a raid of Center Stage casino near Dothan and to keep the $288,669 in cash seized during the raid.

Strange argued the ruling was a decisive victory in his fight to close private casinos in the state.

“The fundamental legal principles which underlie today’s ruling apply not only to Houston County, but in all counties subject to local bingo amendments,” Strange said in a Thursday release from his office about the Houston County case. “Since taking office, I have said that I will resolve the debate over electronic bingo in the courts. Today, another court has spoken and I hope this opinion will serve as a warning for those currently engaged in illegal gambling activities or contemplating operating slot machines in Houston County and throughout the state.”

The state, first under then-Gov. Bob Riley and now under Strange, has been able to shut down the larger private casinos in the state with the exception of those in Greene County, where there is an ongoing legal battle.

Moving trucks arrive at VictoryLand casino in Shorter after Attorney General Luther Strange obtained a warrant to search the facility, seizing cash and gambling machines on Feb. 19, 2013. (Mickey Welsh/Montgomery Advertiser)

Moving trucks arrive at VictoryLand casino in Shorter after Attorney General Luther Strange obtained a warrant to search the facility, seizing cash and gambling machines on Feb. 19, 2013. (Mickey Welsh/Montgomery Advertiser)

State agents successfully served a search warrant at VictoryLand in February, seizing machines and cash. The two sides are now fighting over the seizure in state court.Strange argues the electronic machines are slot machines that are illegal in the state. McGregor and supporters of the casinos argue they play legal electronic bingo allowed by the 2003 constitutional amendment.

McGregor also slammed how the attorney general’s office handled the ongoing case in Greene County and pointed to a harsh order from Special Circuit Judge Houston Brown in that case.

“Remember, this is the same AG whose agents lied to a judge to get him to sign an unlawful search warrant in Greene County,” McGregor said.

McGregor attached the August 2011 order from Brown with the judge ordering property seized from Greenetrack to be returned and agreeing with the defendants that the agent requesting the warrant and the state’s gambling expert “presented statements which are clearly false, misleading, or were made with a reckless disregard for the truth.”

“The totality of the circumstances and the demeanor of the officers at the hearing also indicate that the officers’ presentation and omission of information to the court was intended to obscure and mislead,” Brown wrote. “The state’s law enforcement tactics in this case amount to seizing first and asking questions later. Once this court deletes the false and misleading portions of the affidavit, the court can reach no other conclusion except that probable cause was lacking.”

The judge also ruled that Desmond Ladner, the gambling expert utilized by the state, was “not qualified under Alabama law to render an expert opinion.”

“Finally, Ladner’s testimony does not qualify as an expert opinion because it is unsubstantiated by the requisite facts, methodology, scientific principles and analysis that he testified would be necessary to formulate an expert opinion,” Brown wrote. “He repeatedly testified that he could not answer dispositive questions about the bingo machines as it relates to Amendment 743 because he has not engaged in the required testing, evaluation, or analysis. Thus, Ladner’s opinion was based upon conjecture and belief.”

In his order, Brown also pointed out that Ladner was “involuntarily terminated from his position with the Mississippi Gaming Commission.”

“It appears the state was not aware its expert had been terminated from his previous position,” the judge wrote.

Brown also questioned how state investigators obtained the warrant, stating the “manner in which the state sought out the search warrant certainly raises questions regarding whether the state engaged in judge shopping.”

“The court is particularly troubled by the state’s admitted participation in the procurement of the order which led to the appointment of this court on May 17,” Brown wrote. “The court finds that the state’s communications with the Administrative Office of Courts were not conducted in good faith and represented a clear and knowing violation of (Alabama Rules of Criminal Procedure). The state admitted at the hearing that it never approached either of the Greene County judges about this warrant and, further, the state never apprised this court that it had not.”

Judge Brown ruled the search warrant issued on May 31, 2011, was defective, and voided the warrant.

– posted by Sebastian Kitchen

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