MONTGOMERY (Maggie Walsh) — Gov. Robert Bentley announced this afternoon that he is creating an advisory council to study local and state laws on gambling and any possible revenues that may come from it.
The council will present findings and recommendations to Bentley, Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh and House Speaker Mac McCutcheon by Jan. 1, 2017.
“The ongoing issue of gaming needs to be solved once and for all,” Bentley said during the afternoon press conference today.
The announcement is just the latest development in the ongoing gambling saga in the state. Although electronic bingo machines were ruled “illegal” under state law by the Alabama Supreme Court in March, they are still in operation in Macon and Lowndes counties.
Most recently Gov. Robert Bentley and Attorney General Luther Strange sent a letter to sheriffs and district attorneys in Macon and Lowndes counties reminding them of their duty to enforce the state’s gambling laws and set a Sept. 30 deadline for submitting a plan of action.
Bentley and Strange also sent letters to officials in all counties with constitutional amendments related to bingo gambling. While electronic bingo machines were still being operated in Greene County in 2015 (as shown in the photo to the right), the letter to officials there did not indicate wrongdoing.
The Alabama Baptist could not confirm by press time when or how the gambling operations were shut down in Greene County, if they were.
But district attorneys E. Paul Jones of Macon County and Charlotte Tesmer of Lowndes County as well as Lowndes County Sheriff Big John Williams had responded to the letter at press time, according to Yasamie August, Bentley’s press secretary.
Their responses indicate a continuing of what has been a pass-the-plate routine of law enforcement.
Tesmer claimed a conflict of interest prohibited her from pursuing action against electronic bingo operations in Lowndes County. At the same time, Williams said budget constrictions are the halting factor to his taking action, adding that he would fulfill his duty when he receives a court order — which Tesmer says she cannot provide. So in Lowndes County there’s a stalemate.
Birmingham lawyer Eric Johnston said, “The next step would be enforcement from the state level like from the attorney general with the governor giving him support to do what he needs to do,” explaining that Strange would need to investigate VictoryLand and then Bentley would have to supply the police manpower to support Strange in enforcing the law.
“The state has to close it down,” Johnston said.
Jones’ response echoed Williams’ saying the money just isn’t there for him to consider raiding VictoryLand.
Jones has been the most outspoken about his role in this situation, saying to multiple news sources his duties “do not include the investigation of crimes,” only “the prosecution of crimes.”
Therefore the investigation of VictoryLand is solely on the shoulders of Macon County Sheriff Andre Brunson, who had not responded at press time.
Jones closed his response to Strange and Bentley by saying, “Under the circumstances, I am curious as to what action the two of you would expect me to take?”
The enforcement of gambling laws has been an issue ever since Bentley took office in January 2011. His first action was to dismantle former Gov. Bob Riley’s Task Force On Illegal Gambling and “fully support” Strange’s authority to lead the fight against illegal gambling. Then Bentley moved the responsibility from Strange to local law enforcement in 2015.
Thus it comes down to district attorneys and sheriffs. But at VictoryLand in Macon County and White Hall and Southern Star casinos in Lowndes County, the laws are not being enforced.