The Alabama Bingo War Continues

The great Alabama bingo war continues. Recently the state raided a bingo hall and seized bingo machines and cash. The dispute has been going on for over three years. Former governor and anti-gambling extremist Riley had formed a gambling ‘task force’ that raided legal casinos throughout the state. Last year vindictive federal prosecutors tried the same set of defendants with the same result; acquittal. Recently the Center Stage casino was raided and officials seized electronic bingo games and cash.

Now the non-profit group that operates bingo at Center Stage claims the attorney general’s seizure of bingo machines and cash is illegal and is asking all Houston County judges to recuse themselves from the case. The Houston Economic Development Association (HEDA) filed a motion to dismiss. The motion says that investigators and agents with the attorney general’s office did not follow established law before and during the raid on the bingo pavilion at Center Stage. The agents seized more than 600 bingo machines and $283,000 cash.

The motion seeks the recusal of all Houston County Circuit judges claiming that the judges are bound to recusal because of a 2009 decision to remove themselves from the electronic bingo case. n 2009, all five Houston County judges recused themselves from a motion to validate the issuance of bonds for the development of the Country Crossing casino now known as Center Stage. In 2009 then-presiding Houston County Circuit Judge Brad Mendheim sent an enquiry to the state’s Judicial Inquiry Commission asking for guidance on the electronic bingo issue. In the letter the judge stated “The judges believe that litigation may occur concerning the legality of Country Crossing’s ‘charitable electronic bingo.”

The Judicial Inquiry Commission responded on December 11th 2009 and advised “continued disqualification.” Two new judges have been elected since the order was issued. The recusal motion cites extensive publicity surrounding about electronic bingo. The motion, filed by attorneys Ernie Hornsby and Ashton Ott, states “The pervasive media coverage and resultant public discourse serve to continue the previous disqualification of the judges who signed the orders in the previous lawsuits, as well as all other judges currently sitting in Houston County.” HEDA is also arguing that the machines and cash should be returned to the organization. The motion cites several reasons why the machines should be returned including;

HEDA operated bingo under rules and regulations passed by the Houston County Commission.
All machines seized bore a bingo stamp issued by the Houston County Commission, indicating compliance with existing rules and regulations.
No criminal charges have been filed against anyone resulting from the raid.
No summons was ever properly served on HEDA, invalidating the forfeiture proceeding.
Investigators failed to provide a factual basis for the search warrant that led to the raid.

The motion also says that “The State of Alabama has engaged in a pattern and practice of denying due process by exploiting what the State perceives is a loophole between the criminal rules and civil rules that permits it to seize property without notice or a hearing, in violation of the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution and the corresponding provisions of the Alabama Constitution.”