The Governor of Alabama is waging a one-man crusade against gambling in the state and stirring racial-related tensions along the way by sending police officers in late-night raids to close down electronic bingo parlors.
Republican Governor Bob Riley, a long time critic of gambling, said that the electronic bingo machines are essentially slot machines, which are not allowed in Alabama. He created a task force in 2009 to block their spread in the state.
Gov. Riley has forced the closure of more than thirty gambling halls-ranging from storefront operations to huge Las Vegas-style palaces-and idled more than two thousand employees. Many of the bingo halls are located in poor, black areas.
Black leaders have complained that their areas are being deprived of tax revenue and jobs. Former state Senator George Clay said that 50 years ago, George Wallace sent troopers to Macon County to prevent desegregation of their schools and now state troopers are sent back to Macon County to shutdown their economy.
Task force commander John Tyson said that this is not a replay of that incident in 1960 but a case of stopping illegal casino facilities on preying on innocent people. He added that he doubts whether this is what Dr. Martin Luther King had on his mind when risking his life to fight for equal rights in the US.
But some of the same individuals who stood with Dr. King, including Rev. Jesse Jackson, are planning a march on March 6th, 2010 to support laid-off bingo hall workers and encourage the state legislature to hold a referendum on reopening the bingo halls. In pursuing his electronic bingo crackdown, Gov. Riley bypassed attorney general Troy King, who contended that the electronic bingo machines were legal and some county prosecutors who did nothing with the machines.
Gov. Riley, who is in his 2nd and final term of office, has stated that he will keep the fight against electronic bingo machines until he leaves his post in January 2011. The bingo issue has become one of the main issues in Alabama, with the candidates who are aspiring to succeed Riley in the fall election complaining that it is taking the attention away from other important issues such as dropping tax revenue and the 11% unemployment rate in Alabama. State voters unanimously dismissed a lottery in 1999.
But the electronic bingo machines arrived in Alabama in the 1990's and spread over the past years all overt the state. Casino operators invested more than $500 million in the bingo machines. The VictoryLand Casino in Tuskegee has 6,400 electronic bingo machines, making it the largest casino in Alabama to offer such machines.