Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Bingo Halls and Political Corruption

The local news cycle down her is dominated by bingo halls, so I guess I should talk about that.

Way back when, the State Legislature legalized small stakes bingo so that it could be used by churches and non-profits as a means to fundraise. A lot of states do this; nothing original here.

At some point a very clever person said, "hey, instead of having people play bingo using paper cards, why not have electronic bingo cards." Yaddi, yaddi, yadda, today the state is covered with bingo halls, that contain electronic bingo machines, which are essentially slot machines, and there is no regulation -- there is no law that governors the operation of electronic bingo machines and bingo halls. Pretty much anyone can go and build a bingo hall. And when I say that they state is covered with them, every weekend at least one of the bingo halls in the area is flying a blimp over town.

While electronic bingo machines and bingo halls clearly go beyond the legislative intent of legalized bingo, the law is so vaguely written that they're not necessarily illegal. Over the years state legislators have talked about doing something -- officially legalizing bingo and then regulating it, or shutting the whole operation down -- but little action was ever taken. Bingo has been around for so long that it has become integrated into the economy (billions are wagered on electronic bingo each year) and many Alabamans enjoy playing it. So this brings us up to the last few years...

The current Governor, Bob Riley (R), has a major hard-on for gambling. He's decided that electronic bingo is illegal, that he's going to shut the bingo halls down one-by-one, and he has formed an anti-gambling task-force to accomplish this.

Whenever Riley tried to shut a bingo hall down it lead to a lawsuit -- the bingo hall claimed that it was operating within the law. Last year the question of the legality of electronic bingo finally went to the State Supreme Court. At the end of the year the Court ruled that electronic bingo machines were illegal, unless they met certain criteria, such as: players have to mark the electronic board -- the machine cannot do it for them; players have to call bingo -- the machine cannot do it for them; players have to be playing against other humans -- they cannot be playing against a computer.

Riley declared that the Court agreed with him, that electronic bingo was illegal, and continued trying to close down bingo halls. But the bingo hall operators have moved fast to reprogram their machines so that they meet the Court's guidelines. Ahab Riley keeps pressing to close them down, but he's getting no where because the bingo halls are complying with the Court. Alabamans seem to agree that Riley's obsession with closing them down has become ridiculous because: (1) gambling is so wide spread, (2) if it were just legalized, regulated and taxed, it would bring in a lot of tax revenue, and (3) the law simply is not on his side.

Last week, the head of the Governor's anti-gambline task-force had to resign his position because he got caught gambling (and winning) at a Mississippi casino. And this, as they say, is where the plot thickens. I'll leave it to you to read this article, but it turns out that the anti-gambling Governor took money from some interesting sources with an infamous lobbyists. It's a must read.

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