>Western Tribune column February 3, 2010 Bingo Raids

>Here is my Western Tribune column from February 3, 2010.

The pictures of the pre-dawn raid were sent to me, with permission from VictoryLand to use them. Plus, we now know the raids cost the taxpayers over one million dollars.

Bob Riley’s bingo raids are insane

Tensions were probably high among the employees of Country Crossings in Houston County when told they had to leave work last week in anticipation of Governor Riley’s raid on the facility. The building was subsequently darkened and padlocked when 135 state troopers arrived in a caravan of headlights that stretched as far as the eyes could see in the pre-dawn darkness.

One would think that the hideout of Osama bin Laden had been discovered, when in reality, little old ladies and some country music fans were just plunking nickels and dimes into bingo machines.

A similar raid was attempted at VictoryLand in Macon County, but the raiders were also turned away there. Former state Senator Fred Clay said that the raid reminded him of Governor George Wallace’s attempt to prevent desegregation by sending state troopers into Macon County fifty years ago.

Troopers arriving without a search warrant

Task force leader John Tyson reading document from attorney Fred Gray

It is estimated that the raids cost the Alabama taxpayer over $130,000 as the number of state troopers on duty for that time of the night jumped from 8 to possibly 240 for both raids. That, when state agencies are facing budget cut, does not seem a wise use of our limited resources.

And how many drunk drivers went unnoticed and truckloads of cocaine and marijuana slipped by while the enforcers were standing by doing nothing for hours outside of the entertainment facilities?

Troopers lined up outside of Victoryland

Bingo in Bessemer is just as contentious although the venues are not as grand and the opposing authorities not as powerful as those in the big time operations.
However, seeing a ticket for $400 come out of a bingo machine in Bessemer is just as rewarding as retrieving one in Dothan.

What is really amusing about the controversy on both the local and state level is that in an economy where revenues are down and employment is historically low we have elected officials who want to let large amounts of potential tax money and licensing fees go uncollected.

They also have no qualms about putting people out of work. The facilities in Macon County and Dothan employ thousands and the small bingo parlors in Bessemer together probably employ one hundred or so.

Ron Sparks, candidate for governor, released a statement after the raids in which he said, “Instead of spending money to take jobs away we need to tax gaming to educate our children.”

Commissioner Sparks is right. He called the raids “insane.” Maybe after November sanity will return to the governor’s mansion.

Troopers arriving at entrance being greeted by attorney Fred Gray.

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