- Associated Press - Friday, October 2, 2015

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - A judge on Friday ordered Alabama to return seized gambling machines and money to VictoryLand unless the state quickly takes legal action against open bingo casinos in the state.

Circuit Judge William Shashy handed down the order in the long-running case involving the now shuttered casino and hotel. VictoryLand owner Milton McGregor said that the judge recognized VictoryLand had been treated “unfairly” and the decision paves the way for the facility to reopen.

“Victoryland’s resurrection will mean jobs for thousands of Alabamians - and not just in Macon County. The ruling is a victory for communities across east Alabama,” McGregor said in a statement.

The state in 2013 seized 1,615 of the slot-like machines and $260,000 in cash during a raid at VictoryLand.

Shashy ordered that Alabama must return the machines and cash to VictoryLand unless it takes action within 45 days against six open casinos in the state. Shashy ruled in June that the state appeared to be “cherrypicking” which casinos were to be shut down.

Shashy’s Friday order stated that there were six running casinos in Lowndes and Greene counties. VictoryLand was the largest of the casinos. The others had between 148 to 418 machines each.

The state will appeal the ruling.

“We strongly disagree with the judge’s rulings in the VictoryLand case,” Attorney General Luther Strange said in a statement.

“After the judge’s initial ruling in June, we filed an appeal that was stayed pending today’s decision. As we have done in previous cases, we are appealing the ruling and will be guided by the Supreme Court,” Strange said.

The state has been in a long-running legal battle over the electronic games. Voter in several locations around the state approved constitutional amendments to allow charities to have bingo games as fundraisers. The state has argued the games, with swirling displays and chimes that make them resemble machines, are not what was intended by the bingo laws.

Friday’s order followed a trial Shashy held last year on the legality of gambling machines at VictoryLand, which was once Alabama’s largest casino.

Macon County voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment allowing bingo in 2003. VictoryLand’s lawyers say the amendment provided for all types of bingo, including that played on machines.

The state argued during the trial that the machines do not meet the Alabama Supreme Court’s description of bingo, which includes numbers being announced, players marking their cards, and a player claiming a win.

The Poarch Band of Creek Indians have similar machines at casinos in Montgomery, Wetumpka and Atmore. The attorney general’s office has tried to take legal action against the tribe’s casino operations but have been rebuked by the courts because the tribal lands are not under state jurisdiction.

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