- Associated Press - Thursday, July 1, 2010

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Sixteen protesters who refused to leave the Greenetrack casino in west Alabama during a night-long standoff were arrested Thursday as state police entered to seize more than 800 electronic bingo machines.

Alabama Public Safety Director Christopher Murphy said the 16 had been blocking the entrance to the casino at Eutaw for 12 hours after the Alabama Supreme Court cleared the way for state troopers to conduct the raid.

One of the protesters, Democratic state Sen. Bobby Singleton of Greensboro, told WBRC television they wanted to demonstrate their opposition to Republican Gov. Bob Riley’s gambling task force. Protesters contend Gov. Riley is wrongly closing a major employer in the poor, rural county.

Gov. Riley and Task Force Commander John Tyson Jr. contend that court rulings in recent months have made clear the electronic bingo machines are illegal slot machines.

Raids and threats of raids by the task force have closed all of the non-Indian electronic bingo casinos in Alabama except Victoryland in Macon County, the state’s largest with more than 6,000 machines. The task force is seeking an Alabama Supreme Court order allowing a raid of Victoryland. The three Creek Indian casinos are under federal control, not state.

Mr. Tyson said those arrested, including casino CEO Luther Winn, were charged with obstruction of justice. He said Winn also was charged with assault and leaving the scene of an accident stemming from a confrontation with a state trooper at a checkpoint Wednesday.

Mr. Tyson said Mr. Winn “mashed the accelerator” and struck the trooper with the side-view mirror of his vehicle as he went past the checkpoint.

Greenetrack attorney John Bolton did not immediately return a call for comment.

Mr. Murphy said those arrested “repeatedly asked law enforcement officers to arrest them.” After dawn arrived Thursday, the troopers did.

Sen. Singleton, who spoke with WBRC while in handcuffs during the arrest, said they were orderly and didn’t want to do anything “to give a bad image.” He said they were charged with obstruction of justice and expected to be released on bond.

Greene County Sheriff George Cook did not immediately return a call for comment.

Mr. Tyson said all of the electronic bingo equipment had been secured Thursday and the casino was quiet “inside and out.”

The standoff took place after the justices on a 7-2 vote cleared the way Wednesday evening for state troopers to re-enter Greenetrack after a seesaw legal dispute between Greene County Circuit Judge Eddie Hardaway and the governor’s task force.

Mr. Hardaway, siding with casino supporters who say more than 350 Greenetrack jobs are at stake, had issued an order June 4 barring any raid. The Alabama Supreme Court struck that order down Monday night and the task force first entered Greenetrack on Tuesday morning.

But Mr. Hardaway issued another order halting the raid — and near midnight Tuesday ordered the task force out of the building.

Mr. Tyson said officers complied, bringing back equipment and leaving the casino on Wednesday. But he asked the Supreme Court to act on an emergency basis to strike down Mr. Hardaway’s orders, which Mr. Tyson said had repeatedly ignored the justices. The court agreed with Mr. Tyson within a few hours of his filing.

“Compliance with an order of this court is not optional,” the justices said.

“Disregarding Supreme Court orders cannot be and must never be optional,” Gov. Riley said in a statement. “Our judicial system depends on people following the orders of the state’s highest court.”

The Alabama Supreme Court was receiving final briefs Thursday on a few pending issues, including whether Mr. Hardaway can continue handling the case.


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