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Alabama's VictoryLand Voluntarily Closes its Casino and New Hotel
in Anticipation of State Task Force Raid

By Sebastian Kitchen, Montgomery Advertiser, Ala.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Aug. 10, 2010--SHORTER -- VictoryLand volun­tarily closed its casino Monday. A spokesman for the governor com­pared VictoryLand owner Milton McGregor's move to running away like a "scalded dog," while McGre­gor attributed his decision to the "ridiculous and illegal behavior" of the governor and the command­er of his Task Force on Illegal Gambling.

McGregor said in his statement that the pari-mutuel betting facili­ties will open again at 5 p.m. Thursday, but his attorney Mark White said there is not a plan right now to reopen the casino "until we can assure our patrons and our customers that they are not going to be subjected to Mr. Tyson."

All of the facilities closed Mon­day, including the race track, the casino and the new hotel.

The casino, the dog track, res­taurants and the hotel have about 600 remaining employees, accord­ing to a statement from McGregor, but had as many as 2,000 before the task force crackdowns began.

White said he was unsure how many people would be back at work Thursday. He said they did not start implementing the plan to close until 4 a.m. Monday.

McGregor, who operates Victo­ryLand and its Quincy's Triple Seven Bingo Casino, has closed the casino once before in an effort to avoid being raided, following an aborted attempt by task force com­mander John Tyson Jr. to raid and close the casino.

VictoryLand is the largest casi­no in the state with more than 6,400 machines and was the only non-Indian casino still open in the state.

Gov. Bob Riley, who believes the electronic bingo machines at VictoryLand and other casinos are slot machines and thus illegal, formed the task force and is trying to shut the casinos down.

Afraid of court

Jeff Emerson, Riley's commu­nications director, said in a state­ment that VictoryLand's actions show that it agrees.

"These casino bosses all claim they just want their day in court, yet when it's time to take their slot machines before a court, the casi­no bosses run and hide," he said.

"If One-Percent McGregor real­ly, honestly believed his slot ma­chines were legal, he would keep his casino open. Then he could ar­gue his side in a court of law, but that's the last thing One-Percent McGregor wants because he knows his slot machines are ille­gal -- absolutely 100 percent ille­gal."

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Emerson's "One-Percent" barb was directed at McGregor because news reports indicated Victory­Land had given a little less than 1 percent of its gross income from electronic bingo -- about $162 mil­lion in 2008 -- to charity.

McGregor was quick to re­spond to those comments in anoth­er statement.

"We have never run away from a fight," he said in a second state­ment from VictoryLand. "Do not mistake our actions today. Victo­ryLand was here long before Riley became governor and we will be here long after his reign has ended.

"We will continue to fight for our employees, the citizens and the children of Macon County, and the state of Alabama."

White and VictoryLand sup­porters contend "Riley and Tyson have run from fights" that would determine whether the machines are legal.

"Their purpose is not to solve a legal issue. Their purpose is to de­stroy people's property," he said.

Riley's spokesmen contend McGregor, his attorneys and local officials in some of the counties have tried repeated legal maneu­vering to delay court action.

The Alabama Supreme Court has ruled with Riley and Tyson on every major issue and has released guidelines to define what the court considers bingo in Alabama.

There are several pending court cases.

Aggravated customers

Three VictoryLand vans blocked customers from entering the property Monday with securi­ty turning away those who stopped to ask about the situation.

Hundreds of vehicles, if not thousands, slowed down or stopped as they drove past the casi­no Monday morning and after­noon.

Meanwhile, about 16 miles away at the nearest casino operat­ed by the Poarch Band of Creek In­dians, there was a nearly full park­ing lot.

Some of those vehicles, like quite a few that stopped at Victory­Land, had Georgia license plates.

The manager on duty at the Creek Casino at Montgomery re­ferred the Montgomery Advertiser to the managers at Creek Casino in Wetumpka. Those are two of the three casinos operated by the Creek Indians in Alabama.

The machines at VictoryLand are the "same as the bingo ma­chines in operation at those same Native American casinos," ac­cording to the statement from Vic­toryLand. McGregor has claimed that all Riley has accomplished is to give Indian bingo a monopoly in the state.

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VictoryLand customers were surprised to find the facility closed when they arrived ready to play Monday.

Anthony Harris traveled from Tuscaloosa to play at the Macon County casino, which is located about two miles east of the Mont­gomery County line, only to find security blocking the entrance. He brought along his father-in law, Hazell Collins of Chilton County.

"We wanted to enjoy a day off of work and a day of retirement," Harris said. "We were just enthu­siastic to get here."

Disappointed in finding the ca­sino closed and in the continued action of Riley's task force, Harris said he would probably keep his money in his pocket. He said they come to VictoryLand two to four times a month.

"I guess they are saying it is better for us to take our money and go across state lines or to the reser­vation," Harris said.

But he and his father-in-law do not want to go to Mississippi or to one of the facilities operated by the Creek Indians.

Harris feels the actions of the task force are unjustified.

"I feel it should be the people's choice what they want to do with their money," he said.

James Wallace Vinson and his wife drove to Shorter from Geneva hoping to play and said it was "ag­gravating" to find VictoryLand closed.

Geneva is close to Country Crossing, a Houston County-facili­ty that is also voluntarily closed due to the threat of a raid.

Unlike Harris, Vinson planned to drive nearby to one of the Poarch Creek facilities.

"I think our governor is doing wrong," he said. "There was a lot of money coming into Alabama from these places."

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To see more of the Montgomery Advertiser, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com.

Copyright (c) 2010, Montgomery Advertiser, Ala.

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