Alabama gov wants feds to stop Indian casino bingo

By Phillip Rawls
Mobile, Alabama (AP) November 2010

Gov. Bob Riley’s next step after closing most of the electronic bingo casinos in the state is to go after the three remaining casinos operated by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.

Communications Director Jeff Emerson said last week that Riley will request that the Creek casinos be closed by the federal government, which regulates American Indian gaming.

Emerson said Riley believes the machines in the tribal casinos in Atmore, Wetumpka and Montgomery aren’t bingo, but are illegal slots.

“They can’t do anything the state doesn’t allow. The state doesn’t allow slot machines, and they can’t have slot machines,” Emerson said.

Officials at PCI Gaming, the casino operation for the Poarch Creeks, did not return repeated phone calls last week seeking comment. But PCI Gaming President Jay Dorris told the Mobile Press-Register that he’s not paying particular attention to Riley’s comments.

“We answer to the federal government and what their definition is,” he said. “Bingo, as we play it, is acceptable.”

Riley has used court decisions and his Task Force on Illegal Gambling to shut down all privately operated electronic bingo casinos in Alabama. In court cases from Lowndes and St. Clair counties, the Alabama Supreme Court has said legal bingo requires much player involvement, including paying attention to the numbers called, marking the numbers, recognizing a win and announcing the win.

Riley has said his action against the privately operated casinos was necessary before going after Indian casinos under federal regulation. With less than three months remaining in his term, he has not taken any action with the National Indian Gaming Commission in Washington, D.C., which regulates Indian gaming.

The commission allows Indian tribes to operate any form of bingo, including electronic, if a state allows traditional paper bingo, spokesman Shawn Pensoneau said last week.

The commission announced last month that it would review Indian gaming regulations, but Pensoneau said the bingo provision is not expected to change.

He also said the tribal gaming in Alabama is regulated by federal law, not the Alabama Supreme Court’s interpretation of bingo.

Both candidates for governor have said they will not continue Riley’s gambling task force, even though they have different views on gambling.

Democrat Ron Sparks says he opposes Riley’s efforts to close casinos, and he wants to expand, tax and regulate electronic bingo.

Republican Robert Bentley said that with the current federal regulations, the only way to close the Indian casinos is to ban all gambling in Alabama, including paper bingo. He has proposed a constitutional amendment that would allow voters to say yes or no to gambling.