Alabama Bingo Halls Raided By Federal and Local Law Enforcement

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Federal and state officials raided and shuttered 14 gambling facilities in Jefferson County, Alabama on April 10.

State Attorney General Steve Marshall (R) hosted a press conference that same evening to inform the public of the crackdown.

“The facilities shut down today were operating in blatant violation of state law, apparently without fear of reprisal. Our action this week came in response to numerous complaints about the trouble that illegal gambling has brought into these communities,” Marshall told the media.

Alabama has one of the more restrictive approaches to gambling of all the US states. The fully legal options are tribal gaming sites with video bingo terminals, pari-mutuel horse racing bets, and the daily fantasy sports operators, like FanDuel or DraftKings.

There is no other sports betting, casino gambling, or lottery betting allowed in the Cotton State.

Related: See our full and regularly updated guide to the current gambling laws in each US state, including Alabama.

Losing Lines

The bingo parlors shut down across Jefferson County this week operated under local laws that previously considered them acceptable. That’s even though many of them reportedly advertised and labeled themselves as casinos.

Some bingo halls are required to donate money to charitable efforts, and others are only allowed pen and paper bingo instead of electronic.

Attorney General Marshall has long accused the operators of violating these laws, and committing or being involved in other crimes. He has been fighting against this state of affairs for years.

In September last year, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled against electronic bingo operators in Lowndes and Macon Counties deeming them as illegal operations.

That ruling set the precedent for this week’s shutdowns of similar operators in Jefferson County.

However this case marks an interesting step up. Usually such operations are left to local law enforcement. But in these recent raids, federal and state level officials were also present.

That included officers from the US Drug Enforcement Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Alabama State Police.

All this action came under the nose of Jefferson County Sheriff Mark Pettway, who took office in 2018. In 2019, he told reporters that he had more significant concerns, such as violent crime, to deal with.

So-Called Casinos

However it seems Attorney General Marshall may have finally won this argument, at least for the time being.

“I’m familiar with the chatter and the narrative that arrives anytime that my office cracks down on illegal gambling,” he said.

“They [the shut-down operators] are not lifting these communities up,” he claimed. “Nobody’s property values have increased. The economies in these areas have not improved. No neighborhood has flourished as a result of these so-called casinos.”

Local residents were “the forgotten victims of these type of establishments, establishments that are historically associated with thefts, fraud, gangs, drugs, and ultimately, violence,” Marshall said.

Whatever the outcome of any potential prosecution, for the moment the 14 bingo halls in Jefferson County will remain closed. Several illegal gambling machines were seized, but it remains unclear if there were any arrests.

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