Electronic bingo battle continues

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Despite a ruling restricting electronic bingo gambling in the state from the Alabama Supreme Court, a legal battle continues over regulating bingo in Jefferson County.

An attorney for charity bingo operations in Jefferson County argued Monday before Circuit Judge Caryl Privett that Sheriff Mike Hale does not have the legal authority to issue permits and make bingo restrictions.

"As I indicated, listening to Sheriff Hale's lawyers, it's his intention to," attorney Erskine Mathis said. "He wants to know what the law is and abide by it."

Mathis said charity bingo laws say only cities and county commissions should regulate gaming. However, Jefferson County District Attorney Brandon Falls believes the sheriff can issue permits, although he admits he is concerned what will happen if Judge Privett says no.

"I've asked the county commission to issue regulations on this issue," Falls said. "I will continue to do so if 86-09 is determined to be unconstitutional."

So far, the Jefferson County Commission has refused to get involved in regulating.

Sheriff Hale's attorney said one court has already approved the sheriff's authority over permits.

"Sheriff Hale's concern is what does the law require of him in Jefferson County," said Hale attorney Keith Jackson. "To date everyone agrees he is complying with the law."

Meanwhile, Falls said the Alabama Supreme Court ruling may make the question over permits over electronic bingo less of a problem.

"If any machines are operating under the Alabama Supreme Court decision Barber vs. Cornerstone, they need to be shut down and clear out of the state," Falls said.

Attorneys representing electronic charity bingo gaming says the state ruling is a blow to jobs and tax revenue in Alabama.

"It's a boom to Mississippi gambling industry," Mathis said. "Everyone playing bingo now, here, going to go back to Mississippi."

One charity believes it can continue to operate electronic bingo machines, even after the supreme court ruling.

The House of Joshua, a Mobile charity, said it wants an electronic bingo permit in Birmingham.

"The machines do play bingo as characterized by the Alabama Supreme Court ruling," said Scott Gilliland, attorney for House of Joshua.

Attorneys for the House of Joshua on Monday asked for a temporary restraining order from Jefferson County Circuit Judge Caryl Privett. The Mobile operation wants to block Sheriff Mike Hale from issuing an ordinance restricting their gaming to only two days a week. They also want to stop the District Attorney Brandon Falls from shutting them down.

The city of Birmingham denied the charity a permit earlier this year.  The council has since killed it's electronic bingo ordinance, allowing paper bingo only.

"We have paper bingo ordinance," said assistant city attorney James Love.  "We didn't act arbitrary and capriciously and lawful."

The court hearing continues Tuesday afternoon.