Alabama Charitable Gaming

Charitable gaming is legal in select Alabama counties and cities. In order for a county or city to offer charity gaming, Alabama’s state constitution has to be amended to allow the activity to take place there. A county sheriff or chief of police is responsible for charitable gaming within his or her constituency.

Since 1980, 18 such amendments have been passed. The amendments and law didn’t keep up with the pace of technology, however, and gaming establishments started offering slot machines using bingo game mechanics – similar to the concept behind video lottery terminals.

In 2004, the state’s attorney general raided Alabama's gambling facilities and confiscated illegal slot machines. Following the raids and a review of the state’s gambling statutes, the attorney general announced new criteria for electronic bingo machines. An announcement was made that all bingo machines should use the traditional five-by-five grid for bingo cards. Each dog or horse track was given an appropriate amount of time to remove or reprogram the machines that did not meet the criteria.

By January 2005, electronic gaming machines at the dog and horse tracks in Macon and Greene counties were deemed in compliance with state law, but not for long. A series of raids and confiscations of electronic gaming machines have taken place from 2009 through February 2013, with VictoryLand the most recent target. Many charitable bingo properties voluntarily closed their doors as they awaited a resolution to this matter.

The patchwork of constitutional amendments, rather than a cohesive legal definition, has some state officials contending that the electronic games are illegal and were not what charity bingo laws intended. On the other hand, bingo hall operators have maintained that the games are legal. In 2009 and 2010, the Alabama Supreme Court issued opinions specifying six requirements to determine if a game is “legal” bingo. The rules essentially try to limit bingo to the type of game traditionally played in bingo halls.

The VictoryLand case has been particularly contentious, with VictoryLand alleging the state has acted improperly and has failed to do the forensic work to determine if the bingo being offered is legal. VictoryLand says it believes the machines satisfy the legal rules. As of press time, the two parties were arguing in court and no decision had been rendered.
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