|Center Stage Alabama|
Electronic bingo is legal at Center Stage, and every lawyer in the Houston County Courthouse should know it. That means Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange and his agents acted unlawfully when they raided the facility last July, taking 691 machines and $283,000 in cash. That means the forfeiture hearing, now in its second full day, should have been over in about five minutes--with property returned to Center Stage, and Strange referred to the U.S. Justice Department for investigation.
How can we say that with certainty? It's because of a simple provision of law that holds in Alabama--and probably all 50 states. It's the kind of common-sense holding that would-be lawyers probably learn in the first week of law school. But Luther Strange ignores it as he wastes taxpayer dollars on a crusade that is not grounded in law. For that matter, former governor Bob Riley did the same thing when he launched his anti-gambling task force in December 2008.
What is the principal that should be guiding the forfeiture hearing in Dothan? Here is the simple version: The constitution trumps a state statute.
Another way to look at it: When the constitution and a statute appear to be at odds, the constitution prevails.
Houston County Circuit Judge Michael Conaway has to know that; it's unlikely that anyone could pass a bar exam without knowing that. So why has Conaway allowed the forfeiture hearing to drag into a second day? Our best guess is that Bob Riley appointed Conaway to the bench, so the judge now is part of a high-level conspiracy to convince Alabamians there is a controversy about electronic bingo in Alabama.
No such controversy exists, at least not in Houston County, home to Center Stage, and Macon County, home to VictoryLand. And yet, Luther Strange has directed raids at both facilities.
How does Strange get away with it? Well, he is a pro-corporate Republican of the sort favored by Alabama's white elites--and such GOPers also are supported at the polls by many middle-class whites who inexplicably vote against their own economic interests.
But it doesn't end there. Our appellate courts are 100-percent controlled by such Republicans. Our corporate-owned mainstream press is not about to wake up and inform Alabamians that Bob Riley and Luther Strange have poured millions of taxpayer dollars down a sinkhole. And the Obama Justice Department, so far, has shown that it doesn't have the spine to take on corruption that started under George W. Bush, especially in a deep-red state that Democrats aren't likely to win any time soon.
We haven't studied all of the constitutional amendments that allow electronic bingo in various Alabama counties. But Amendment 569, Bingo Games in Houston County, is easy to understand. So is Amendment 744, Bingo Games in Macon County. Here is the primary difference between them: In Houston County, the county commission is charged with promulgating rules and regulations on bingo; in Macon County, that duty falls to the sheriff.
Either way, the Alabama Constitution provides no role for the attorney general if the regulating authorities determine bingo is legal in a particular county.
So why the controversy? Well, there isn't one--under the law. Luther Strange and Bob Riley, it appears, have a political interest in creating a phony controversy. That's probably because it will benefit the Indian gaming entities who have backed them financially.
Dothan-based rickeystokesnews.com is providing up-to-the minute reports from the Houston County Courthouse, and the proceeding sounds like a replay of the hearing earlier this year over a liquor license for the VictoryLand casino.
Various agents for Luther Strange have paraded to the stand to testify that, in their opinion, the Center Stage equipment amounts to slot machines that are illegal by Alabama statute. Here is an example of the issues at hand, from a live report at rickeystokesnews, focusing on an exchange between AG attorney Sonny Reagan and agent Gene Sisson:
Reagan is still questioning Agent Sisson. States Exhibit 6. Reagan asks Sisson to identify a game that is being played. Lucky Star System. Agent Sisson’s hand.
The Lucky Star System is not that much different than any other game we have looked at. Sisson’s recollection is that you purchase the ticket from the Mega window. He can’t recall if there was a Lucky Star window or not. It was a new game.
Agent Sisson is describing the screen. Reagan is asking if this system played in the same fashion as the other game. Sisson says yes and that there are also time restraints on the game like the other games.
That's all interesting, but if the Houston County Commission finds the machines constitute a form of bingo, they are legal. The Alabama Constitution, as approved by voters in Amendment 569, says so.
A simple check of Alabama case law makes it clear. We provided evidence in a post earlier this year about VictoryLand and its owner, Milton McGregor:
Perhaps McGregor's strongest argument, however, comes from a simple legal concept that is spelled out across Alabama state law. Here is one way to put it: If a conflict exists between a state statute and a constitutional amendment, the Alabama Supreme Court has held that the constitutional amendment controls and takes precedence over the statute.
In other words, the constitution trumps a statute. And a case styled Chorba-Lee Scholarship Fund Inc., et al v. Sheriff Mike Hale, et al, 60 So. 3d 279 (2010) is one of many cases that spell it out:
"Undeniably, the legislature cannot enact a statute that conflicts with the Constitution, that is, that prohibits that which is permitted by the Constitution or that permits that which is prohibited by the Constitution.'" Opinion of the Justices No. 373, 795 So.2d 630, 632 (Ala.2001) (quoting City of Birmingham v. Graffeo, 551 So.2d 357, 361-62 (Ala. 1989)).
Law does not get much more simple than this, and we've provided links to the case law that proves our fundamental point: The constitution trumps a state statute--and that means bingo is legal in Houston County and Macon County.
Why, then, are a bunch of attorneys and law-enforcement agents engaged in a charade at the Houston County Courthouse? What has been driving Bob Riley and Luther Strange to declare that lawful bingo operations are illegal?
Alabamians should be taking a hard look at those questions.