The fate of two Lowndes County casinos hangs in the balance, along with nearly 100 jobs.
Local elected officials are concerned. In a county with relatively little industry and tourist attractions, casinos gave people jobs, contributed to local charities, and brought in gamblers from the streets and districts.
On the other hand, courts have interpreted Alabama’s murky gambling laws to prohibit the type of games offered in casinos, and Attorney General Steve Marshall called them “a menace to the public health, morals, safety and welfare.”
Lowndes County Commission Chairman Charlie King is one of the officials concerned about the impact of the possible closure of White Hall Entertainment and Southern Star Entertainment.
“It would be a devastating blow,” King said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “You’re talking about 100 jobs, you know. In a county like Lowndes, losing 100 jobs is a pretty big blow.”
It is not yet clear when – or if – the casinos may be forced to close. Attorneys believe the new action in the case has delayed a shutdown that seemed imminent after the Alabama Supreme Court’s decision in late September.
The Alabama Supreme Court dropped the hammer on White Hall, Southern Star and Macon County’s VictoryLand Casino on Sept. 30, ruling unanimously that electronic bingo machines — which players play in much the same way as electronic slots — constitute illegal gambling operations. . The court ordered lower court judges to issue an injunction against the three casinos within 30 days, prohibiting them from operating electronic bingo.
As that 30-day deadline approaches, court records don’t show any injunctions have been filed, likely because there’s a chance the ruling could change. Attorneys for the casinos asked the Alabama Supreme Court for a new hearing on Oct. 14, but the court has not said whether it will hear the case again.
“Older people need something to do”
Currently, it is mostly run as it was in the Lowndes County casinos. Patrons continue to frequent the businesses and hope they are not forced to close any time soon. If so, some say they’ll just go somewhere else, like Barbara Smith, 74. If they close, she’ll go down the road to Wind Creek in Montgomery.
Many elderly guests complain that they will have nothing to do when businesses close.
With what many seniors see as few options for recreation or entertainment, casinos have essentially turned into de facto senior centers for some older residents. Barbara Smith, 79, has been going to White Hall Entertainment since it opened.
“We need to do something. We elders need to do something,” she said.
John Webb, 79, said the same. He is not married so he goes out occasionally to eat at the White Hall Cafe and see some people.
Smith, a retired teacher, embraces the “gambler” label. She goes for fun, but more important to her, in case she wins.
If Smith regularly left the casino profitable, she would clearly be an extreme outlier. Gambling critics often point to the fact that casinos prey on low-income people like those in Lowndes County, where the median household income is nearly $20,000 below the state average. Extensive research has shown that problem gambling is felt more severely by people in poverty.
But supporters take a different view, highlighting the role of casinos as job engines, donors to local charities and tourist attractions. Jerry Allred, Southern Star’s floor manager, estimated the firm made about $10,000 last year in contributions to the county school system and local charities, and said the firm also supported local law enforcement with donations.
It was not clear to the casino attorneys that the majority of residents in Lowndes and Macon counties are black. Faya Ora Rose Toure, an attorney for White Hall Entertainment, criticized the Alabama Supreme Court’s legal reasoning in a request for a new hearing filed with the Alabama Supreme Court on Oct. 21, writing that “the analogy made by the state and this court leads one to think that it is governed by conviction and the laws of the Jim Crow era and worse.”
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“This court has 30,000 September (sic)The 2022 ruling is a transparent policy aimed at establishing a system of injustice to intentionally perpetuate and promote the segregated and unequal treatment of majority black, poor counties and their citizens in Alabama, as has been done throughout history to the present,” the filing states. .
Officials also feel the county is forfeiting its right to something residents agreed to and approved. In 2000, Lowndes County voters approved an amendment to allow charity bingo games in the town of White Hall.
Lowndes County Commissioner Robert Harris, whose district is home to both White Hall and Southern Star Entertainment, said the state is “taking away their votes.”
“If it was voted on by the majority, and it was, and it became law, then what became the problem?” Harris said in a phone interview Wednesday.
However, the Alabama Supreme Court has consistently ruled over the years that electronic bingo does not meet the state’s definition of bingo. (Complete the six-part checklist.)
“This is the latest and hopefully final chapter in the ongoing saga of attempts to defy this court’s clear and repeated assertions, beginning in 2009, that electronic machines such as those at issue here are not the “bingo” referred to in local additions to bingo. “, the court wrote in 2016.
Is Lowndes County Singleing Out?
Still, Harris said he feels as though Lowndes County is being singled out — after all, there are other electronic bingo casinos, he says — because Lowndes may not be able to fight back the way wealthier counties might.
In response, Mike Lewis, a spokesman for the Alabama attorney general’s office, sent back a list of lawsuits filed against electronic bingo operators in the state. However, none of them have closed in recent years like White Hall, Southern Star and VictoryLand may have been forced to do so.
If the redesignation request is denied and the courts issue an injunction forcing White Hall to shut down, Shimeka Richardson said she will cry on her way home. Richardson, 34, has been working at the casino for over a year and it’s her favorite job she’s ever had. And that’s how he supports his family.
“It’s my home away from home,” Richardson said. He loves his boss, co-workers and all the regulars who spend time there. “If they take this away, it’s going to hurt a lot of people.”
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