Every year, a massive gambling syndicate engages the Alabama State Legislature in a well-funded effort to give legal legitimacy to a despicable trade. And for the past couple of years, flagrant support has come from an unlikely source… the Christian Coalition of Alabama.
Randy Brinson, the president of the Christian Coalition of Alabama, has attempted to make a “Christian” case for passage of gambling bills. In 2007, Brinson supported a bill to legalize electronic bingo gambling at existing dog tracks in Alabama. Apparently, back then he rationalized that the best solution was to legalize the illegal activity at those four places so that it would be easier for the state to shut down illegal electronic bingo gambling in other places.
Despite one federal court decision, two Alabama circuit court decisions, and a ruling from the Alabama State Supreme Court, Brinson recently wrote an article supporting the gambling kingpins’ legislation. He implies that the Houston County Commission and local law enforcement have the authority to define what is legal in their county irrespective of state law or the opinions of the courts.
State law and previous court decisions make it abundantly clear that local governments do not have the authority to redefine state law.
Federal District Judge Lynwood Smith, in his ruling against charity bingo gambling operation in Triana, Alabama, cited an Alabama Supreme Court decision stating that no local amendment allowing the game of bingo to be played could be construed as repealing the state law against lotteries or other games of chance.
Citing two opinions from the Alabama Criminal Court of Appeals, Foster v. State 1997 and Barrett v. State 1996, Smith wrote, “… the narrow parameters set out in a constitutional amendment permitting bingo games to be conducted within a particular Alabama county may not be broadened by a municipal ordinance.”
In other words, local amendments and ordinances must comply fully with all the provisions of Alabama state law and with the specifics of the amendments authorizing bingo in particular Alabama counties. Consequently, local ordinances cannot legalize anything that state law prohibits, including slot machines used for bingo.
Following Judge Smith’s ruling, two Alabama circuit court judges ruled that the so-called electronic bingo machines are illegal. And on November 13, 2009, the Alabama State Supreme Court issued a ruling that clearly defines “legal bingo,” a ruling it applied on January 29th, 2010 in striking down the electronic bingo ordinance of the town of Ashville.
Converted electronic slot machines do not fall within the definition, yet illegal operations remain open while a legion of lobbyists hired by the gambling syndicate try to strong arm the State Legislature into passing a bill that Brinson apparently thinks we have a Christian duty to support.
Moreover, Brinson implies that these court rulings are forms of judicial activism. Somehow, he has mistaken upholding the law against illegal gambling with judicial activism.
Brinson also argues for the supremacy of the Indians over the laws of the state. He wrote, “Even if the Alabama Supreme Court rules that all electronic bingo machines that are in operation are illegal, the Indian casino operators in places such as Atmore and Elmore County will be the sole monopolistic operators of gambling within the state.” Wrong again. Under the Indian Gambling Regulatory Act, Indian tribes are limited to having only the games that are legal under state law.
Shutting down the illegal gambling operations would limit the Indian casinos and the charity bingo operations to games deemed legal according to the definition in the State Supreme Court’s ruling. But even paper card bingo will still be very lucrative. The Mississippi Gambling Commission reported for the fiscal year 2007 charity-operated bingo games played with paper cards generated almost $116 million in revenue. So, in a state noted for its casinos, charity-operated bingo gambling played with paper cards is obviously a big money operation.
Perhaps most troubling is Brinson’s view of how Christians should respond to gambling. Brinson calls on Christians, specifically the Baptists, to reject Governor Riley’s efforts to enforce our laws against illegal gambling and instead join him and members of the Legislature who “… have courageously introduced legislation to allow for a statewide vote.”
What Brinson advocates is to subject the state to the full power and weight of a gambling syndicate that will spend millions of dollars to get a referendum passed. In the Ohio referendum in November 2009, the gambling syndicates spent over $34 million on the referendum alone.
Brinson wrote, “The ongoing legal and political battle over electronic bingo among our elected officials and religious and political leaders is neither productive nor symbolic of the spirit and nature of Christ, whose prayer was that we all may be one.” Finally, Brinson wrote that the Christian Coalition’s “… goal is to unify Alabamians across the state, rather than be perpetually divided on these important issues.” But it begs the question as to whether the state needs to be unified around gambling operations that one gambling company executive said are “… wrought with wanna-be gangsters, illegal slot machines, and very shady commercial casino operations posing as charities.”
Those of us who want to protect this state from being ruled by powerful gambling syndicates and “wanna-be gangsters” have goals as well. Our goals are to restore the rule of law to Alabama, to clean out corruption in state and local government, and to uphold the law.
Author's update: Concerns have been brought to my attention that the previous article may have created the inaccurate perception that Dr. Randy Brinson and the Christian Coalition were part of the well-funded effort of the various gambling interests in Alabama . If anyone obtained such a perception from my commentary, such perception was entirely unintentional and any such perception toward Dr. Brinson and the Christian Coalition drawn from that article is unwarranted. If this occurred, the author sincerely regrets this conclusion and wishes to state for the record that there is no allegation to that effect. While the author and Dr. Brinson disagree over the best course to pursue to remove illegal gambling from the state, the author did not intend to create any impression that Dr. Brinson’s opinions are motivated by anything other than his sincerely held beliefs.
About the author: Gary Palmer is president of the Alabama Policy Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit research and education organization dedicated to the preservation of free markets, limited government and strong families, which are indispensable to a prosperous society.