Electronic bingo sparks gambling debate

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - The confiscation of electronic bingo machines in Birmingham this week sparked more debate Friday over the legality of gambling in Alabama, including among two candidates for governor.

More than $800,000 was collected from electronic bingo machines confiscated from a Roebuck VFW earlier this week. In Hoover on Friday, Gov. Bob Riley inspected the machines.

"These are nothing but gambling machines," said Riley. "We are going to continue to bring cases with help of all the state's assets, because ultimately what is happening is against the law."

The governor congratulated Jefferson County District Attorney Brandon Falls on his efforts to crack down on electronic gaming machines. Falls said the machines are illegal and he believes addictive.

"They certainly did not want to leave that machine," said Falls. "They urinated in a bottle so they did not have to leave that machine."

Jim Stevens, the Bessemer attorney who represents the VFW post, said the machines were not illegal.

"It can't be a slot machine," said Stevens. "It's impossible to be a slot machine. You say, 'Jim how can you say that?' We
will prove that in a court of law."

Stevens said playing bingo is legal in Alabama and bingo machines are legal. Stevens said he sent Falls a list of 30 bingo
operations in the county.

"If you don't close these places, I'm going to open up again," said Stevens. "Either we all are open or we all be closed. That includes Milton McGregor and Greentrack."

Agricultural Commissioner Ron Sparks also jumped into the gambling debate Friday.  He brought his campaign for governor to Birmingham, touting gambling.

"What I'm talking about is putting a casino in Birmingham, Alabama," Sparks said. "Right here where the domed stadium is proposed to be."

Sparks said he wants a statewide vote to legalize casino gambling and a state lottery.

"There may be some who believe the magic is gone from Birmingham," said Sparks. "I don't. I want to make it a destination city like Mississippi."

Sparks opponent for the democratic nomination is Alabama Congressman Artur Davis.

Davis said Friday he was not against a a vote on gambling, but did question Sparks' plan.

"I don't understand why the commissioner comes to north Birmingham, a distressed community, and says here is where you should have a casino," said Davis. "I don't see him on 280 saying you should have a casino. I don't see him next to the Galleria saying here you should have a casino."

Davis said he believes gambling in Alabama should be taxed and regulated, but he does not believe gambling will provide all the money Sparks claims.

"Go to the Mississippi Delta and see how many casinos you see," Davis said. "See how many poor people living next to them. See how is making the money. It's not the folks in the communities."