- Associated Press - Friday, September 12, 2014

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - A judge weighing the legality of gambling machines seized from VictoryLand casino in Macon County said Friday the issue would be simpler if a constitutional amendment allowing bingo in the county had used the term “electronic bingo.”

Montgomery County Circuit Judge William Shashy wrapped up a four-day trial on the legality of the machines Friday afternoon. He gave attorneys four more weeks to file legal arguments; he will then rule in the case.

Attorney General Luther Strange seized 1,615 machines in a raid on Feb. 19, 2013. His staff asked the judge to declare them illegal and allow their destruction. VictoryLand’s attorneys are seeking a ruling that they are legal forms of bingo, which would lead to the reopening of what was once Alabama’s largest casino.

The Legislature approved a proposed constitutional amendment in spring 2003 to let Macon County voters decide whether they wanted to legalize bingo in the rural county. Voters approved it overwhelmingly in November 2003, and VictoryLand opened the next month 15 miles east of Montgomery.

The Macon County constitutional amendment uses the term “bingo” but does not define it.

“It would have been a lot simpler to put ‘electronic bingo’ in there. It would have been simpler for everyone,” the judge said in court Friday.

Former Rep. Johnny Ford, who sponsored the 2003 legislation, testified Friday that he intentionally left out a definition because he wanted to include all forms of bingo. Ford and Former Sen. Myron Penn, who guided the legislation through the Senate, testified voters understood the constitutional amendment would allow electronic bingo.

To back up their statements, they pointed to fliers and newspaper ads run by proponents and by opponents, such as the Christian Coalition of Alabama, that said the issue was over electronic bingo games.

“We explained to our citizens that when they voted on bingo, we meant all forms of bingo,” Ford testified.

Two retired educators who campaigned for the approval of the constitutional amendment testified the advertising was clear.

Assistant Attorney General Sonny Reagan said the VictoryLand games are illegal slots and don’t meet criteria for bingo set by the Alabama Supreme Court in a similar case from Lowndes County. In that 2009 case, the court said the machines didn’t have the elements of traditional bingo, such as players paying attention to numbers called, marking their cards and announcing when they won a game.

VictoryLand attorney Joe Espy said the Lowndes County case doesn’t apply because the two counties have different constitutional amendments authorizing bingo. Furthermore, the 2009 decision doesn’t mention Macon County.

VictoryLand casino did not reopen after the raid last year. But casino owner Milton McGregor left the courtroom Friday afternoon criticizing the attorney general’s case as weak and expressing confidence about the future.

“I couldn’t feel better,” he said.

Three casinos operated by the Poarch Creek Indians in Montgomery, Wetumpka and Atmore are now larger than VictoryLand used to be. They operate under federal law and have not been raided by the state attorney general.

The attorney general, who is seeking re-election, did not attend the trial and left the arguments to his staff.

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