Members of the Jefferson County Commission weren’t on the same page about allowing bingo halls to operate, but Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said the Supreme Court has made it clear that bingo halls are illegal.
“We just got a Supreme Court order making it absolutely clear that these are illegal, and we need local law enforcement to be able to do their job on that front,” Marshall said.
For years, Alabama prosecutors have been fighting illegal gambling. But charging those involved in illegal gaming is up to local law enforcement, and Jefferson County Sheriff Mark Pettway has previously said he has larger concerns to address. In 2019, Pettway issued a statement saying that it was not worth the time, effort, and money that was thrown into forfeiture and misdemeanor tracing machines when he faced a serious violent crime that needed to be addressed.
Marshall said his office saw evidence that the operations were “ground zero” for more serious crimes, including money laundering.
“Despite the fact that gambling is a misdemeanor, it can also be a reservoir for other wrongs,” Marshall added. “And if we allow them to continue, in violation of the law: number one, what does that mean for the rule of law? But also, in our essence, we condone illegal activity, and that’s not where law enforcement should be.”
Jefferson County Commission Chairman Jimmy Stephens said he believes illegally operating bingo halls need to close.
He told 1819 News: “I think they need to close, and the Commission is doing what it can to address these issues.”
“We’re trying to work within our zoning laws to help mitigate this problem,” Stephens added. “The sheriff has not shown any intent or desire to dispose of any of these illegal electronic bungoos in unincorporated Jefferson County.”
Stephens said that while the county is working within its ability to try to get everyone to comply with the law, most businesses apply for a vendor license, which must be issued.
“But when it turns out it’s bingo, it’s illegal,” Stephens said. “Enforcement powers deal with our sheriff, and so they have created a bottleneck and lack of continuity in the enforcement of our zoning laws.”
Some commissioners are working with legislators and the attorney general’s office to come up with a plan.
“I think it’s a systemic problem. I don’t think it’s just a problem with Jefferson County,” Stevens added. “But the problem is that it causes our citizens not to have a peaceful environment in our neighborhoods. So, we’ll continue to work with the Mayor and hopefully through the Mayor to make these things go away… It doesn’t make anything look better, and it’s not there to improve the quality of life for our citizens, and that’s what we elected to do.” with it “. “We’ve done everything we can as a committee, but it’s up to law enforcement to do their jobs.”
Sheriffs and county attorneys don’t work for him, Marshall said, so he can’t force them to follow the law. However, he said people can make a difference.
“I appreciate the conversations I’ve had with Commissioner Jimmy Stevens and his leadership, but I think the citizens need to make it clear that this is something they think needs to be done as well,” Marshall said. “We have voices, right?”
Marshall encouraged citizens to voice their concerns to local leaders.
“The biggest thing we can do is not only highlight why law enforcement is important to them, but also for those in this community to contact the sheriff, contact the prosecution side, and explain why this is important,” he said. Marshall.
1819 News has reached out to Pettway for comment and obtained the following statement from Vice President David Agee:
“No business can operate without a license being issued. Any city or county government that does not want Bingo operation in their jurisdiction has the power to revoke their license, not issue a new license, or not renew a license. This is the best way to close a business.” The attorney general has Bingo operations in certain parts of the state, such as Dothan, and many of these businesses operate in the same way. We have investigated many of these businesses and will continue to try our efforts to reduce violent crime.”
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