Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Governor's Effort to Raid Dothan Development Draws Restraining Order

A judge in southwest Alabama issued a restraining order early this morning, thwarting an effort by Governor Bob Riley's anti-gambling task force to raid the Country Crossing development in Dothan.

Circuit Judge P.B. McLauchlin signed the order at 1:30 a.m., about two hours before a raid from the Governor's Task Force on Illegal Gambling was to begin at Country Crossing's electronic-bingo pavilion. A hearing on the restraining order is set for January 20 in Houston County.

Country Crossing closed its doors on Tuesday evening in anticipation of the raid. Reports the Dothan Eagle:

Country Crossing officials shut the doors on the $87 million project Tuesday night, hours before the governor’s Anti-Gambling Task Force was to conduct a raid on the facility, expected to result in the confiscation of 1,710 electronic bingo machines on the premises.

Sources told county officials Tuesday that the raid was coming at about 4 a.m. Wednesday, with as many as 100 officers from the Alabama Bureau of Investigation, Alabama State Troopers and the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board who were convening at a rest stop just south of Ozark on U.S. 231 around 3 a.m.

Houston County officials called a 10 p.m. press conference to report the move, saying they requested the closure of the bingo pavilion and restaurants in the name of public safety to avoid any encounters during what County Commission Chairman Mark Culver called “a clandestine, armed illegal raid.”

Riley has been an ardent opponent of legalized gambling, even though numerous reports have stated that he received campaign funds from Mississippi Choctaw gaming interests, laundered through disgraced Republican Party lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Riley's hypocrisy on gambling issues has not gone unnoticed by Country Crossing supporters. Reports the Dothan Eagle:

Country Crossing developer Ronnie Gilley, who has been adamant in his belief in both the legality of the project and the governor’s political motives to stop it, said Tuesday night he is not deterred.

“We will encounter these obstacles just as we have every other obstacle over the last two years – and we will prevail in the end,” Gilley said. “We have followed the letter of the law to a T. We are abiding by the law. This is a malicious abuse by our governor.”

Jay Walker, a spokesman for Country Crossing, called Riley's actions purely political:

“Tonight the governor began his plan to eliminate private bingo facilities,” Walker said. “This is not about being legal or illegal. This is political.”

The Gilley camp has maintained Riley’s move is a payback for campaign contributions he received from the Choctaw Indians in Mississippi, meant to keep gaming out of Alabama to cut down on Indian competition. Riley has denied that.

“We are here to fight as hard as we can,” Walker said, “for the people who have a job here and for those who have fought so hard to make it happen. We will continue to fight.”

Attorney General Troy King issued a statement indicating he is in Country Crossing's corner. Said King:

This morning’s news reports brought with them increasing concerns about the actions of the governor’s task force. I was invited to join the task force on Nov. 16, 2009. I responded and asked the governor to “provide me with the investigative materials you have collected and upon which you intend to base further actions,“ so I could make informed decisions about my involvement.

I also asked the governor to consult and coordinate with law enforcement, district attorneys, and my office. Regrettably, I never received a response from the governor or Mr. (Special Prosecutor David) Barber.

Now the governor is apparently acting on a decision of the Alabama Supreme Court that is not yet final and which, contrary to his public statements, does not say that all electronic bingo machines are illegal. I can only offer the governor my advice, which I have done. I cannot force him to take it.

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