State Supreme Court overturns Macon, Lowndes County bingo rulings

Bingo Hall

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall says the state Supreme Court’s recent unanimous decision that several casinos are illegal gambling enterprises is a major win.

On Friday, Sept. 30, the court overturned three separate decisions from Macon Circuit Court and Lowndes Circuit Court that ruled the electronic bingo halls were operating within the realm of the law.

These court cases began in 2017, when the state sued Southern Star owner Epic Tech and VictoryLand in Macon County, and White Hall in Lowndes County. The state sought an order declaring the businesses be declared a public nuisance and to cease their gambling operations.

During the cases, agents for the state visited these facilities and determined the electronic bingo machines operated like electronic slot machines, with a small bingo card the size of a postage stamp at the corner of the screen. The rest of the screen was taken up by spinning reels/slots. Agents said the machines were playable without paying attention to the bingo card, which runs afoul of Alabama’s laws allowing bingo.

In the Macon County cases, the court decided that the state’s evidence wasn’t enough to prove the facilities were causing “immediate and irreparable injury” to the county, so the facilities could stay.

The Lowndes County case ended similarly.

Alabama appealed that decision, and the Alabama Supreme Court determined the state did, in fact, demonstrate that the gambling operations in Macon and Lowndes counties were illegal and a public nuisance.

Further, the Supreme Court’s decision declares electronic bingo is illegal in Alabama because the machines do not exhibit the characteristics required for “the game commonly or traditionally known as bingo.”

According to the state, “the game commonly or traditionally known as bingo” must include the following:

  • Each player uses one or more cards with spaces arranged in five columns and five rows, with an alphanumeric or similar designation assigned to each space
  • Alphanumeric or similar designations are randomly drawn and announced one by one
  • In order to play, each player must pay attention to the values announced; if one of the values matches a value on one or more of the player’s cards, the player must physically act by marking their card accordingly
  • A player can fail to pay proper attention or fail to properly mark their card, thereby missing an opportunity to be declared a winner
  • A player must recognize that their card has a “bingo,” i.e., a predetermined pattern of matching values, and in turn announce to the other players and the announcer that this is the case before any other player does so
  • The game of bingo contemplates a group activity in which multiple players compete against each other to be the first to properly mark a card with the predetermined winning pattern and announce that fact.

According to the Alabama Supreme Court’s decision, “The defendants have no right to engage in, and, thus, cannot be harmed by being enjoined from continuing in, an illegal enterprise.”

While the businesses argued that they should continue being allowed because they are donating a portion of their proceeds to charity organizations, the court did not agree.

You can read the full decision right here as a PDF download.

“This litigation has gone on far too long,” Marshall said. “We have had significant delays in the trial level, just the opportunity for us to present our case. The results should not be a suprise to anyone who has been following this case in Alabama. The court has been very clear and underscored this again today. Electronic bingo is illegal.”

Marshall said there is a separate ongoing lawsuit to halt electronic bingo at Greenetrack in Greene County.

In a recent but separate case, Greenetrack was ordered to pay the state more than $76 million in unpaid taxes and legal fees.

Categories: Alabama News, Local News