Ala. high court says attorney general can’t take reins of casino-fighting task force

By Phillip Rawls, AP
Friday, May 21, 2010

Ala governor gets victory in fight against casinos

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama’s high court handed the governor a victory on Friday in his fight to shut down electronic bingo casinos, ruling the state’s attorney general can’t seize control of a gambling task force.

The state Supreme Court ruled Friday that Attorney General Troy King doesn’t have the power to take over the task force set up by the governor to halt the spread of bingo machines. King has disagreed with Gov. Bob Riley over the task force’s raids to seize machines at several casinos around the state.

Friday’s ruling pertained to the task force’s raid at the closed White Hall Entertainment Center in Lowndes County, but Riley said the decision will apply to all casinos in the state.

“This ruling should put the nail in the coffin for so-called electronic bingo in this state,” he said.

The Supreme Court rejected the attorney general’s argument that he has absolute power over legal matters involving the interests of the state. Instead, it said the governor has “supreme executive power” over the executive branch of government, including the attorney general.

“If the governor’s ’supreme executive power’ means anything, it means that when the governor makes a determination that the laws are not being faithfully executed, he can act using the legal means that are at his disposal,” the court said.

The court’s ruling wasn’t a determination on the legality of the flashing, Vegas-style machines at the White Hall casino, but it affirms the governor’s ability to enforce gaming laws.

Riley created the Governor’s Task Force on Illegal Gambling 1½ years ago because he said the attorney general and some county district attorneys weren’t enforcing gambling laws. He said laws allowing bingo in some counties permitted traditional paper games, not the thousands of electronic games being installed in gambling halls across the state.

The governor says the bingo machines are Vegas-style slots — which are illegal in the state.

In its ruling Friday, the Supreme Court said that the governor’s position that the term “bingo” refers to the traditional paper game is consistent with at least three appellate court decisions.

The task force raided the White Hall casino, 20 miles west of Montgomery, last year and seized about 100 machines and $500,000 in cash. King criticized the task force’s pre-dawn raid and accused the governor of creating a constitutional crisis by sending armed officers into casinos without the approval of the attorney general or local district attorneys.

King, who was appointed attorney general by Riley in 2004, announced in March that he was taking over the White Hall case and removing task force commander John Tyson, who’s also Mobile County District Attorney.

Riley and his task force appealed to the Supreme Court.

The attorney general’s spokesman, Chris Bence, said King was studying the ruling and would have no comment before Monday.

Bobby Segall, an attorney for the charity that operates the White Hall casino, said Friday’s decision contradicts a previous high court ruling on the attorney general’s power.

“The Supreme Court just decided to change the law,” he said.

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