What gives? Perhaps Shashy figures that Alabama courts have handled electronic-bingo cases peculiarly for years, so he might as well stick with the pattern. But this one is especially hard to figure because it's not a complicated case; the facts and the law are clear that VictoryLand is due to have its property returned--and its casino should be reopened, after raids from the Alabama Attorney General's Office forced it to close in February 2013.
The issues are so clear-cut that Shashy should have been able to make a ruling at the close of testimony in September. Here are three reasons why:
(1) AG Luther Strange's primary argument has been that VictoryLand's e-bingo machines violate state statutes that prohibit slot machines and gambling devices. It has been long established under Alabama law, however, that the state constitution trumps a statute. And voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2003 that paved the way for e-bingo at the facility in Macon County.
(2) Strange also argues that the machines do not meet a lawful definition of bingo. But again, Amendment 744 is controlling law, and it states that the Macon County sheriff will "promulgate rules and regulations" for the operation of bingo in the county. The sheriff has found that the machines play a form of bingo, and by law, that should end the discussion. In fact, the machines at VictoryLand operated lawfully under the sheriff's definition for five years--and that only changed when former Governor Bob Riley, the beneficiary of funding from Mississippi Indian gaming interests, decided to launch a crusade against non-Indian facilities in Alabama.
(3) At September's trial, VictoryLand presented expert testimony that its machines were legal and did, in fact, play bingo. The AG's office presented no expert testimony, nothing to controvert VictoryLand's evidence. That would seem to make Shashy's ruling awfully easy--in a sense, the AG forfeited at trial.
A side issue seems to make the picture even more curious for the AG. Sonny Reagan, one of Strange's top assistants and his point man on gaming issues, was forced to resign in December over allegations that he had leaked information from a grand-jury investigation in Lee County.
If Strange has admitted that his chief bingo prosecutor has behaved in an unethical manner on one case, shouldn't the public be asking, "Well, how did Mr. Reagan handled his responsibilities in the VictoryLand matter and other bingo cases? Did he try to undermine the legal process in those cases?"
What if Shashy rules against VictoryLand? From here, it seems the casino and owner Milton McGregor would have grounds to ask not only for an appeal but also for a criminal investigation into Sonny Reagan's handling of the case.