|By Sebastian Kitchen, Montgomery
Advertiser, Ala.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Aug. 10, 2010--SHORTER -- VictoryLand volunÂtarily closed its casino Monday. A spokesman for the governor comÂpared VictoryLand owner Milton McGregor's move to running away like a "scalded dog," while McGreÂgor attributed his decision to the "ridiculous and illegal behavior" of the governor and the commandÂer of his Task Force on Illegal Gambling.
McGregor said in his statement that the pari-mutuel betting faciliÂties 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 MonÂday, including the race track, the casino and the new hotel.
The casino, the dog track, resÂtaurants and the hotel have about 600 remaining employees, accordÂing 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 VictoÂryLand 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 comÂmander John Tyson Jr. to raid and close the casino.
VictoryLand is the largest casiÂno 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 commuÂnications director, said in a stateÂment 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 casiÂno bosses run and hide," he said.
"If One-Percent McGregor realÂly, honestly believed his slot maÂchines were legal, he would keep his casino open. Then he could arÂgue his side in a court of law, but that's the last thing One-Percent McGregor wants because he knows his slot machines are illeÂgal -- absolutely 100 percent illeÂgal."
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Emerson's "One-Percent" barb was directed at McGregor because news reports indicated VictoryÂLand had given a little less than 1 percent of its gross income from electronic bingo -- about $162 milÂlion in 2008 -- to charity.
McGregor was quick to reÂspond to those comments in anothÂer statement.
"We have never run away from a fight," he said in a second stateÂment from VictoryLand. "Do not mistake our actions today. VictoÂryLand 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 supÂporters 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 deÂstroy people's property," he said.
Riley's spokesmen contend McGregor, his attorneys and local officials in some of the counties have tried repeated legal maneuÂvering 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.
Three VictoryLand vans blocked customers from entering the property Monday with securiÂty 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 casiÂno Monday morning and afterÂnoon.
Meanwhile, about 16 miles away at the nearest casino operatÂed by the Poarch Band of Creek InÂdians, there was a nearly full parkÂing lot.
Some of those vehicles, like quite a few that stopped at VictoryÂLand, had Georgia license plates.
The manager on duty at the Creek Casino at Montgomery reÂferred 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 maÂchines in operation at those same Native American casinos," acÂcording to the statement from VicÂtoryLand. 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 MontÂgomery 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 enthuÂsiastic to get here."
Disappointed in finding the caÂsino 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 reserÂvation," 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 "agÂgravating" to find VictoryLand closed.
Geneva is close to Country Crossing, a Houston County-faciliÂty 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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Copyright (c) 2010, Montgomery Advertiser, Ala.
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