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9/2/2008 - September 2008 SLI Educational Update - B-I-N-G-O . . . And Bingo Was It's Name-O



To: SLI Supporters

Date: September 2008

From: A. Eric Johnston

Re: B-I-N-G-O . . . And Bingo Was Its Name-O

“Bingo” in Alabama is gambling. It is nothing else. However, is it bingo as we know it, or is it something else? Here is a brief history of gambling in Alabama:

► Article IV, Section 65 of the Alabama Constitution of 1901 prohibits games of chance in Alabama. Because of this constitutional provision, the Legislature cannot simply pass laws that permit types of gambling. Legal games of chance, “gambling,” is allowed only by additional constitutional amendments. Also, based on this constitutional provision, the Alabama Legislature passed the provisions of the Alabama Criminal Code which make gambling a crime.

► Pari-mutuel wagering at dog and horse tracks was found constitutional in Opinion of the Justices, 251 So.2d 741 (1971). The Alabama Supreme Court said that while Section 65 of the Constitution prevents the Legislature from authorizing a lottery, it does not prevent it from authorizing forms of gambling that do not constitute games of chance. The court found a significant degree of skill involved in dog and horse racing. Therefore it is constitutional.

► Bingo was always considered to be a game of chance. Beginning in 1980 in Act 80-431, Amendment 386 to the Alabama Constitution, Jefferson County authorized the first limited charitable bingo.

► There have been 17 more constitutional amendments permitting bingo in Alabama counties.

► There continued to be a question about what is a game of skill and what is a game of chance, since Section 65 forbids games of chance. Finally, in Ex Parte Ted’s Game Enterprises v. Ted’s Game Enterprises, 893 So.2d 376 (2004) the Alabama Supreme Court held if chance is the dominant factor it is a prohibited game of chance. The court noted Alabama’s history broadly prohibiting of games of chance and said “bingo” was such a game that needed to be excepted from Section 65, i.e., the 18 amendments.

► During the 1990s there were efforts to expand gambling through various types of bills, such as video poker, none of which passed. As a result of these failed efforts and developing electronic technology which increased the potential for bingo, new bingo legislative bills were introduced. Except for Act No. 2003-124 (Amendment 744 for Macon County), these bills have been defeated. Amendment 744 was passed as a result of questionable legislative actions. It allows significant bingo gambling at the Macon County track.

► The problem was increased when Attorney General Troy King released an informal opinion dated December 1, 2001 which recognized electronic bingo as legal.

► Federal law allows Indians to have bingo games, but only to the extent allowed by state law.

► Electronic developments caused bingo operators to expand application of existing bingo amendments. The amendments were distorted to allow larger prizes and faster play, and even propose casinos.

► There has been no Alabama Supreme Court case determining whether electronic bingo may be played as charitable bingo under the 18 amendments.

It is our firm belief that the “electronic bingo machines” used to play bingo exceed what was intended as “charitable bingo” for fire halls, VFWs, and others to raise money for charitable purposes. These machines are slot machines as defined in Alabama’s criminal law. These machines are being used in many of the facilities around the state, including the Poarch Indian reservation, at VictoryLand, in Walker County, in the City of Triana, or as proposed in Birmingham and in Houston and Etowah Counties. Charitable bingo began innocently enough, but because gamblers could not expand into other forms of gambling, they turned their wiles to developing electronic games that they would call charitable bingo, but which would become high stakes casino gambling.

Alabama needs a constitutional amendment to forbid all of this abuse. SLI has prepared an amendment that would prohibit all forms of gambling. We have explained it to elected officials, but there is not the present will or ability to engage in this effort to amend our Constitution. Please recall that in 1999 it cost $1.7 million to beat the lottery which was a statewide constitutional vote.

Although Alabama does not have roulette wheels and blackjack tables, it does have high stakes gambling. The efforts of the Houston and Etowah Counties to create casinos are an example of the significant amounts of money involved. That money comes from those who can least deserve to lose it. Gambling preys on those who are less able to provide for themselves, though no one, regardless of income, should do it. Alabamians must realize that gambling is significant and real in Alabama and it is no longer merely charitable bingo.

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