Samford bingo symposium sheds light on issue

By Alan Collins

BIRMINGHAM (WBRC) - Electronic bingo remains a hot topic in Alabama which is why Samford University's Cumberland School of Law sponsored a day-long symposium on the issue.

It was called "BINGO: Not Just Your Grandmother's Friday Night Social. How Bingo Became More Than Just a Game in Alabama."
 
"I know a lot of people don't understand the law behind this and why things are being done they way they are," Kevin Coleman, the editor of the Cumberland Law Review said.

Victoryland Owner Milton McGregor's attorney, Mark White, was the first speaker. White recounted the ongoing bingo wars as he calls the raids last year from Governor Bob Riley's Illegal Gambling Task Force. White said during the legal battle the Alabama Supreme Court shifted too much authority to the governor's office.

"The process needs to go through the courts and need to be a determination whether it's the state or the industry if something is permitted," White said.
 
Christie Knowles, a Gadsden attorney who represents CBS Supply, which wanted to bring a $200 million development to Etowah County also spoke. She told the law students that people in Alabama want electronic bingo if it's regulated properly.

"Electronic bingo can be a point of a development that is positive. I think people would want that here," Knowles said.

However, opponents disagree, including the Alabama Policy Institute.

"You are basically substituting one dollar for another dollar and it's a bad trade. It's the local equivalent of strip mining the local economy," Gary Palmer, the president of the institute, said.

Palmer said there is also a social cost to allowing gambling in a community.

Many of the speakers at the Cumberland School of Law admit Alabama's laws for electronic bingo are murky at best. But what are the chances the state legislature will clear up those issues?

"I think it's a better chance pigs will fly than take up that issue," Alabaster Senator Cam Ward said.

Ward now heads the state senate judiciary committee and says past gambling bills failed because it gave too much authority to current gaming operations. Ward said the recent indictments in the electronic bingo case involving McGregor, Country Crossing owner Ronnie Gilley, four lawmakers and lobbyists will chill support for legalizing electronic bingo.

"The indictments in the corruption cases on the state and federal level have made anyone touch the issue to shy away from it," Ward said.

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