Last September, the Alabama Supreme Court issued its judgement on a long-running dispute surrounding electronic bingo machines in the state of Alabama and ruled that the machines constitute illegal gambling.
The ruling directly affected three casinos, the VictoryLand Casino in Macon County, White Hall Entertainment, and Southern Star Entertainment in Lowndes County. At the time, it was assumed that shutting down their electronic bingo operations would lead to the closure of the venues.
However, months later, the casinos are still open, following with some changes to the games on offer. There are no longer any electronic bingo machines, but the two casinos in Lowndes County are now offering machines that are similar to slot machines found on online casino sites. However, when players at White Hall or Southern Star try to collect their winnings, they must first play a game of paper bingo. Those playing at VictoryLand Casino will have to use a machine that allows them to place bets on simulated historical horse races.
Visitors to either of the casinos in Lowndes County simply visit a cashier to purchase credits and they are then given a ticket with a unique ID number on it that is then used to log in to the gaming machines. When they have finished playing, the visitors then go to a section of the casino to play a game of paper bingo.
These games of paper bingo have been designed so that almost every player is a winner. Once a player has achieved bingo, they take the paper card and show it to cashier, at which point they receive their winnings.
Lowndes County Sheriff Christopher West has said that to the best of his knowledge, the new system complied with the Supreme Court ruling:
“As long as they’re doing that and the state is satisfied, then we’re satisfied. Being local government, here in Lowndes County, there are certain prosecutions that we like to leave to the state and federal government.”
Bingo does appear to have gone from the VictoryLand Casino. The pari-mutuel betting machines on offer can be found in several gaming centres around the state, such as at the Birmingham Race Course, which has offered them since 2019. Pari-mutuel betting, on sports such as dog and horseracing is legal in Alabama as it is considered to be a game of skill rather than one of pure luck.
An attorney for VictoryLand Casino, Joe Espy, explained that there are several opinions from previous Alabama attorneys general that state that the games are legal. He said that the introduction of the games has enabled the casino to keep the majority of its employees:
“That’s enabled us to be able to keep most of our employees, and we’re hoping to continue to keep all of our employees, and then maybe even add employees. All of which helps the county with the taxes and all that that we pay.”
The debates surrounding gambling in Alabama have been going on for decades. In theory, gambling is illegal in the state. However, bingo is legal if it is played with a live announcer and on a paper card but as the casinos discovered, electronic bingo is considered illegal.
Nonetheless, as demonstrated by the casinos in Lowndes County, creative thinking can lead to solutions. For example, in some Canadian venues, players can enjoy games of chance, such as slot machines, but must complete a small test of skill in order to claim any winnings.
There are regular attempts to legalise more forms of gambling in Alabama. Legislators have attempted to pass various bills that would allow some form of gaming in the state but so far, none have succeeded. For now, it seems that those seeking to play electronic bingo in Alabama will simply have to look elsewhere.