Authority of Alabama gambling rests with counties now

Last week a new chapter in the state’s gambling saga began.  Through executive order, Governor Bentley withdrew Attorney General Luther Strange’s authority to enforce the state’s gambling laws. Instead authority shall now lie in the hands of local sheriffs and district attorneys.

Alabama’s history with the issue of gambling has been a long and contentious one. In 1999, a ballot initiative to establish a statewide lottery program was defeated. Subsequent efforts to try again have all met with failure.

Even so, Alabamians are not so opposed to gambling that it stopped them from turning out in record numbers when Casino mogul Donald Trump made his recent campaign stop in the state.

While a step in the right direction for gambling proponents this measure will also make the state’s gambling regulations considerably more confusing.

This is because according to the Alabama State Constitution gambling is illegal across the state. Complicating the matter, county-specific amendments have been adopted that enable dog racing and bingo.

Governor Bentley seems to have made this decision based on the millions of dollars it has cost the state to enforce anti-gambling laws and the fact that they have been challenged for being applied unequally.

Alabama businessman Milton McGregor, for instance, has seen his Victoryland Casino and greyhound track raided and shut down over electronic bingo machines while similar facilities have been left alone.

The move has been well received by Alabama Senate Majority Leader Del Marsh while others such as the Alabama Policy Institute, a conservative think tank founded by current Alabama Congressman Gary Palmer, see the move as a betrayal to Alabama conservatives.

Whether the move signals the expansion of gambling across the state or the development of a lottery as many Republicans and Democrats have called for remains to be seen. It does appear likely though that the move will hasten the reopening of Victoryland.

While the move may be acceptable for proponents of small government and home rule, it is also likely to lead to confusion within the state’s business community. This is because those who wish to profit from gambling will have to feel out the views of their county sheriff and district attorney if they want to avoid breaking the law.

The move also means that for at least the time being any funding and economic advantages that gambling may offer will primarily benefit the counties that have already signaled their willingness to not prosecute gambling interests.

As such the saga of Alabama gambling is far from resolved due to this order.

Kevin Spann
Politcal Columnist

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