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In Alabama, there’s no sure bet
The fight over gambling continues
In September 2008, Milton McGregor, the bombastic owner of VictoryLand, the state's largest casino, was
summoned to the governor's office for a lunch.
Gov. Bob Riley's purpose for that meeting wasn't clear, but the request to meet wasn't particularly
unusual. While McGregor and Riley weren't exactly close pals, the two were friendly enough at the time
and various meetings had occurred between the two over the years.
VictoryLand had been open for more than two decades at the time — the last five years of which
McGregor's casino along Interstate 85 in Shorter had been operating electronic bingo machines. In an
airplane hangar-sized room at VictoryLand, the Quincy's 777 game room had more than 6,000 blinking
and dinging bingo machines, and more than 2,300 employees kept the place going.
McGregor was doing very well.
As he entered the governor's office that September afternoon, McGregor noticed that two small Chick-filA boxes had already been set out on the governor's long conference table. He asked if Riley was on a
diet, but McGregor said he knew the small lunch was a sign that this meeting would be less about food
and more about whatever it was Riley wanted to discuss.
"(Riley) wanted me to hire his son, Rob," McGregor said. "He didn't make any bones about it. He said to
me, 'I know you're doing well. I've seen your numbers. I think any business doing that well during a Riley
administration should benefit the Riley family in some way.' "
McGregor said he responded by asking Riley if the governor was implying that VictoryLand's success was
a result of Riley's policies. Riley said no, but McGregor said that didn't quell the demands that Rob Riley,
an attorney, receive a job working for McGregor.
"It wasn't a request, it was a demand," McGregor said.
After McGregor declined more than once, he said Riley told him that he had seen the McGregors'
personal tax returns, even cited income numbers that McGregor said were "pretty doggone accurate."


In a matter of minutes, the two men were in a heated argument, their voices so loud that eventually
Riley's secretary popped open the door and asked if everything was OK. She was waved away and the
argument continued for more than
an hour, with Riley's later
appointments, including a group of
county commissioners, stacking up
in the waiting area outside his
In McGregor's mind, the whole ugly
scene was the catalyst for many of
his subsequent troubles — the
raids, the court rulings, the arrest
and unsuccessful prosecution of
him on federal charges and the
slow crumbling of his business.

While Gov. Bob Riley (left) and Milton McGregor weren't exactly close pals, the
two were friendly enough at the time and various meetings had occurred
between the two over the years. (File)

In Riley's mind ... well, there's
where the story takes an interesting
and all-too-common turn in this fight
over gambling. Because in Riley's
mind, which he, like McGregor,
swears is the "real, honest-to-God
truth," that whole story relayed by
McGregor never happened.

Oh, the meeting happened. Riley recalled the lunch with the boxes of Chick-fil-A and McGregor at his
conference table. But that's where the two stories diverge — sharply.
Riley isn't sure what the meeting was about, but he guessed it had something to do with his plans to go
after gambling entities. He was only a few months away from forming his gambling task force and there
were rumblings throughout the state that the governor was preparing for some level of action.
"I met with Milton three or four times and they were usually about the same things — what he thought his
business could do to help the state," Riley said. "That particular meeting, I don't recall exactly what it was
about. But we usually didn't call Milton, he called us to set these things up. And whenever he was in my
office, the door was open and at least two people were listening. I guarantee you that two people were
listening that day to whatever we said."
And those two people definitely never heard the former governor try to strong-arm McGregor into hiring
Rob, said Bob Riley.
"It simply didn't happen," Bob Riley said. "Why on earth would I ask Milton McGregor to hire Rob? That
makes no sense."
There also was no heated exchange in Riley's recollection of the meeting. No secretary asking if things
were OK. No other appointments stacking up outside. And it, by all means, wasn't the catalyst for
"We came to realize that what was going on was illegal," Riley said of his decision to go after electronic
bingo parlors and casinos around the state. "At that juncture, when you determine that it's illegal, you
either have to enforce the law or turn a blind eye to what's happening. The latter wasn't an option."
This is the fight over gambling in Alabama.


From its earliest days, when McGregor and Paul Bryant Jr. were ushering dog tracks into Macon and
Greene counties, through the era of sweepstakes machines and Birmingham horse racing, to the first
incarnation of electronic gaming machines, to the electronic bingo machines that attorneys for the state
and attorneys for the casinos are fighting over in active court cases today, there is no shortage of
fantastic stories, half-truths, outright lies, bickering, backstabbing, soap opera twists and characters that
seem to have leapt from the pages of a John Grisham novel.
There is another side to every story, another player in every deal, and a secret motive behind seemingly
every move. With hundreds of millions of dollars on the line and egos and elections at stake, each side
has apparently been willing to stretch the bounds of ethics and the law to pick up victories along the way.
The fight has pitted an attorney general against the governor who appointed him, lawmakers in the same
party against one another, AG's office attorneys on opposite sides and has split powerful law firms. It has
conjured up conspiracy theories by the dozen, even among those intimately involved in the fight who
should know better.
The single best example of how a sprinkle of truth and a mix of imagination and suspicion have distorted
this tale played out earlier this month during an interview for this story. In his Homewood office, where he
now works as a lobbyist for Bob Riley & Associates, sharing office space with his son, Rob, Bob Riley
pondered a question for a moment and then stood.
Riley left the circle of soft leather chairs where we had been talking for the better part of three hours,
walked to his desk and hit an inner-office speaker button on his phone. In another office a buzzer
sounded and a second later Rob Riley said, "Yes?"
Bob Riley, the former governor of Alabama, a former Congressman and still a cattle farmer in Clay
County, bent closer to the phone and said in a polite, nonchalant tone, "You have a second to come up
here and talk about the Russian mafia?"



The beginning of it all
Since the very start, lawsuits, probes, corruption seem the norm
The beginning of gambling in Alabama wasn't much different from its current state — besieged by
lawsuits, investigations and corruption. The first true gambling operation — a Mobile greyhound dog
racing track — sprang up in 1973 after more than two years of legislative haggling and backroom deals.
Rep. Maurice "Casey" Downing was
the successful bill's usher and is
credited for opening the doors of the
Mobile Greyhound Park, the state's
oldest race track.
It was quickly followed by another
greyhound track in Greene County,
appropriately named Greenetrack.
Greenetrack was operated by Paul
Bryant Jr., son of legendary University
of Alabama football coach Paul Bear"
Bryant, who opened the facility in 1978
in the predominately African-American
county. The tracks were instant
successes, but no track drew the
crowds and money like McGregor's
location along Interstate 85 in Shorter,
dubbed VictoryLand. Three years after
VictoryLand opened its doors in 1984, File photo shows Alabama state troopers guard the entrance to Greenetrack
it was the most successful dog-racing during a raid in March. It was originally operated by Paul Bryant Jr., son of
legendary University of Alabama football coach Paul "Bear" Bryant, who opened
venue in America.
the facility in 1978.

And no area needed it more than Macon County and the City of Tuskegee. To put it politely, the county
and city were broke. The year before the building of VictoryLand was approved, the school system had
shut down for three days because it didn't have the money to operate. There were concerns it would have
trouble remaining open the following year.
Unemployment in the predominately black county was at 15 percent, and with no industry to speak of,
those numbers weren't likely to improve anytime soon. The county's largest employer, by a wide margin,
was Tuskegee University.
But the people of Macon had already turned down a proposal for a dog track in 1980, voting it down
nearly two-to-one. They saw the gambling enterprise as surefire corruption coming to town. Helping to
bolster those beliefs, state Rep. Thomas Reed and a Tuskegee activist, Ronald Williams, were indicted
on bribery charges related to the dog track bill. They were recorded offering a bribe to state Sen. Dudley
Perry, and were convicted in 1977.


That turned an already resistant public even more against the track. However, facing growing financial
problems, and with a promise of 5 percent of profits going to local schools — a deal that voters were told
would see $2.5 million per year go
to schools —in 1983 voters
passed the referendum by an
almost 2-1 margin.
"We were a very poor community,"
Tuskegee Mayor Johnny Ford said
recently. "We were desperate for
any sort of industry, and being a
predominately black county in that
time, we weren't getting a lot of
help from the Legislature. Our
options were limited. We saw what
the dog track in (Greene County)
was doing for those people. It was
a step out of poverty for us."
Ford, as much as anyone, was
responsible for getting the track
approved and helping keep it
successful. He's served two stints "We were desperate for any sort of industry, and being a predominately
black county in that time, we weren't getting a lot of help from the
as mayor in Tuskegee, beginning
Legislature. Our options were limited.”
in 1972 through the early 1990s,
when he was elected to the state
Tuskegee Mayor Johnny Ford
Legislature; he was re-elected
mayor after his term as a state representative ended. He's Tuskegee's current mayor.
With the track approved, the true legal and political maneuvering began, starting with choosing the owner
of the new track and where it would be built. Ford played an active role in both choices. It was his crafty
work that allowed Tuskegee to cash in on the track while also allowing the track to operate in a prime
location just off I-85 in Shorter.
Ford concocted a plan that included annexing a 14-mile strip of land consisting entirely of public roads to
connect the 180-plus acres on which VictoryLand sits to the western edge of the Tuskegee city limits.
This, of course, did not sit well with the inhabitants of then-unincorporated Shorter, where the track was to
be located.
In order to block the annexation and hold onto a portion of the tax money, a group of Shorter residents
filed incorporation papers, allowing them to have first dibs on tax dollars and to charge for business
licenses and set zoning requirements for any additional businesses that might spring up. There was, of
course, litigation over all of this.
Shorter residents sued to stop the Tuskegee annexation. Tuskegee countered to stop Shorter's
incorporation. In the end, the two sides split the baby — Tuskegee would provide fire, water, sewage and
electric service to the track (none of which Shorter could provide anyway) and Shorter would get to keep
local tax revenues and award business licenses and zoning permits. Tuskegee also got its share of the
school money.


The money was about to start rolling in fast and furiously, as were businessmen with grand ideas and big
visions. According to a story in the Miami Herald, which covered the opening of VictoryLand and the fight
over it, Shorter residents, despite fighting to get the track, remained wary of it and the criminal element
they suspected it would attract.
At the height of the dog-racing
hysteria, someone paid $180,000
for land near the track that wasn't
valued at a tenth of that price the
year before. The buyer wanted to
install an airplane landing strip.
"Why you think someone wants to
put a landing strip way out here?"
Bud Segrest, a landowner and
Shorter resident, asked the Herald
in a 1984 story. "Dope. They want
to fly in dope."
While those fears never really
played out — VictoryLand, even in
its most successful years, never
dramatically increased crime rates
in Macon County — the track did
Hundreds line up to get inside VictoryLand in this 2012 file photo.
bring in two things: people and
money. On its opening night,
Alabama State Troopers paid a visit to report a problem. Traffic on I-85 was backed up for miles in both
It was the first real indication for Milton McGregor that his life was about to change dramatically.



The eternal optimist
Milton McGregor’s never-say-die mindset keeps him in the fight
VictoryLand added 1,500 new bingo machines with the addition of its West Wing, which opened Jan. 26,
2009 in Shorter.
There are two things to know about Milton McGregor right from the start. The first thing is he's incredibly
well liked. Even among the people he's fought bitterly with over the years, it is usually grudgingly admitted
that McGregor is a nice enough guy.
During a stroll through VictoryLand in May with McGregor, he stopped 11 times to carry on personal
conversations with employees and customers.
"Hey, how's that boy of yours
doing?" he shouted at one female
"Hey, big man, how's your daddy
doin'?" he asked a middle-aged
black man, then genuinely
brightened when the man told him he
was improving.
He called everyone by their first
names. When he asked about their
family members, he called them by
name. He is extremely personable —
with everyone. And people love him
for it.
The second thing about McGregor is
that he is hopelessly optimistic. The
next court case will be the big
winner, the next ruling will be the one that finally puts him on top for good. On the day verdicts were
announced in his federal corruption case, his attorneys were nervous wrecks. McGregor just winked and
said, "Got it in the bag, big man." And they did.
But it is that mindset that leads him to continue fighting, to continue pouring millions of dollars into legal
battles and seemingly hopeless attempts to beat the Alabama legal system. It's not arrogance or stupidity
or greed, but optimism. He believes he'll eventually win — "We have to, we're right," McGregor insists.
And why not? He always has.
McGregor came up as a regular, middle-class kid in Hartford. He graduated Geneva High in 1957, had
college stints at Troy and Auburn in between military service in the Army, and eventually ended up in
Huntsville working first for Brown Engineering and later Boeing. In the late 1960s he moved back to
Hartford to care for his ailing mother and take over the family grocery store.
Along the way, McGregor became involved in video game distribution. He opened Happy Tymes video
arcades in Dothan, Enterprise and Ozark. He leased Pac-Man machines and other games through his
McGregor Gaming distribution business — in which he partnered with Bryant Jr. — to convenience stores
all over the Southeast. It was a lucrative business. The video game industry was booming through the


late 1970s, but in the early '80s, home video game systems started to grow in popularity and McGregor
could see the end coming.
"Within two weeks of me closing the loan to build VictoryLand, the curve started to turn on those games,"
McGregor said. "The good Lord was looking out for me."
McGregor was also looking out for himself. And when it comes to cutting business deals and assessing
the political landscape, few are better.
McGregor said he read a story in his local newspaper about Macon County passing a referendum to
approve a dog track, and he wanted in. There was a process for obtaining the single racing license that
would be issued. He needed to submit the necessary financial paperwork and a plan for the track, and
then appear before a newly-formed racing commission for public interviews.
McGregor began putting together his team of investors, and he stacked the deck — including a couple of
Macon County politicians and announcing that famed civil rights attorney and Tuskegee resident Fred
Gray would be the track's attorney. Then, as icing, he told the commission that Paul Bryant Jr., who was
already operating a successful track in Greene County, would be hired to run his track.
It also didn't hurt that McGregor met with Ford and agreed to a long list of the mayor's demands, including
agreeing to hire a certain percentage of workers from Tuskegee. With Ford's blessing, McGregor got the
Immediately, two lawsuits hit the courts from bidders who weren't selected and who alleged the process
was rigged. Those lawsuits were a bit of foreshadowing for the road ahead. A third suit, filed four years
later, was the clearest indicator of the convoluted world McGregor had entered.
That third lawsuit — one of the oddest ever filed in Alabama courts — came from Gerald Wallace, the
brother of former Gov. George Wallace. Gerald Wallace alleged he was owed a 5-percent stake in
VictoryLand because he cut a deal with McGregor. The alleged deal: In exchange for interest in the track,
Gerald promised he wouldn't tell his governor brother to veto the dog track bill. In court documents,
Gerald Wallace proclaimed this a good deal, because "Mr. McGregor knew I could tell my brother to kill
the bill, and it would've been killed."
Not surprisingly, a judge tossed the suit quickly, but not before the whole ordeal made it into every
newspaper in the state.
Lawsuits aside, times couldn't have been better for McGregor, his family and his partners. Three years
after literally betting the farm on VictoryLand — McGregor mortgaged all of his family land to secure the
$10-$12 million in loans needed to build the track — he had the most successful track in the country. And
it stayed that way for the next four years.
"It was a risk worth taking, but that didn't make it easy," McGregor said of securing the money for the
track. "But I believed it would work. I knew it would work."
The line of cars on opening night settled any lingering doubt, and the massive amounts of income the
next several years made it seem like a no-brainer. Within two years, VictoryLand had quadrupled
expectations, becoming the first track to gross over $200 million per year. The McGregors — Milton and
his wife, Pat, and two daughters — moved to the top of the tax bracket.
"It was successful a lot faster than I ever dreamed," McGregor said. "The experts told us we could expect
$50 million per year, and I didn't believe it. That first year, we were both wrong — we did $164 million.
That was a pleasant surprise."


“It was successful a lot faster than I ever dreamed. The experts told us we could expect $50 million per
year, and I didn't believe it. That first year, we were both wrong — we did $164 million. That was a
pleasant surprise.”
The six years after VictoryLand opened in 1984, Milton McGregor was an Alabama version of King Midas.
Everything he touched – real estate deals, nursing homes, land deals and his race track – turned
immediately into more gold than he could pocket. In 1991, he made a shrewd deal to purchase the
struggling Birmingham Race Course, Alabama's only horse racing venue, buying the track for just $19
He turned it into a combo track featuring both horse and dog racing for a couple of years, before the high
costs of operating a horse racing track proved too much. What was left, at the time, was a highly
profitable dog racing venue situated a few miles between two interstates, one of which connects
Birmingham with Atlanta.
"We had a very good run there, and we created a lot of jobs and helped a lot of people and paid a lot of
taxes," McGregor said, as he points to a list of tax dollars paid by VictoryLand to state, county and city
coffers over the years. "But when the casinos started, we couldn't compete."
But they were going to try.


Keeping up with the slots
Growth of gambling, especially on Mississippi's gulf coast,
takes its toll on Alabama
Between 1990 and 1992, greyhound racing in Alabama began taking body blows. Georgia and Florida
started statewide lotteries, offering their citizens chances to win millions with a $1 ticket. In Mississippi,
casinos opened along the coast in Biloxi, and almost overnight the buses that used to arrive daily at
VictoryLand from Atlanta were redirected to the Gulf Coast. Locally, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians
began offering video poker at its casino in Atmore.
"We couldn't compete," McGregor
said. "It took us by surprise how
fast it turned on us. I would send
guys over to the Mississippi casinos
to do parking lot surveys — to
count the Alabama tags on the cars
in the lot. It was half the lot most of
the time. We were getting crushed."

In 1992, Mississippi allowed casinos to open and, by 1994, there were 30.
Mississippi's coastal towns were bringing in more than $1 billion annually, as
travelers flocked to the new gaming operations and glitzy hotels, including the
Beau Rivage Casino and hotel in Biloxi. (File photo)


The numbers backed that up. In
1989, according to tax records
reported by the Birmingham News,
the tracks in Mobile, Shorter and
Eutaw provided more than $22
million in state and local taxes. By
1992, those receipts were down to
$17 million. By 1995, they had lost
another 20 percent.

Mississippi was the main problem. In 1992, the state allowed its first two casinos to open. By 1994, there
were 30. Mississippi's coast towns were bringing in more than $1 billion annually, as travelers flocked to
the new gaming operations and glitzy hotels. Up north, in Tunica, Miss., a new casino named "Splash"
was pulling customers by the hundreds from Birmingham and northward.
"I went to Splash one time, and I swear to God, I rode through a damn cotton field down an unpaved road
to get there," McGregor said. "This was just after it opened. We pulled up out front and there were all
these people out there. I thought the place was closed and they were waiting on it to open. No, they were
waiting to get in. It was too full. And there was a $10 entry fee.
"That's what we were up against."
To compete, the track owners told legislators, they would need something to level the playing field,
something to stop the flow of patrons to the more attractive alternatives. They settled first on video
gambling.And with the first push for additional gaming, McGregor and his counterparts at dog tracks, and
others who would come along with dreams of gaming hotels and resorts in towns across the state, started
down a road that is still winding today. That road has led to jail time, lawsuits and heartbreak, to millions
of dollars for some and millions in losses for others, and it has supported more law firms than tobacco
McGregor led the way, as he started pumping money into the campaign coffers of politicians — on both
sides of the aisle — and hiring some of the best lobbyists in the state to make his wishes known. He
became a sort of kingmaker, or at a minimum a political-career killer. McGregor and his partners couldn't
get any bill they wanted passed, but
they could certainly make political life
miserable for those who voted against
In one year, campaign-finance records
showed McGregor personally donated
more than $650,000. The next year,
he spent over $500,000. In later
election cycles, those figures nearly
The result: Between 1993 and 1999,
the Alabama Legislature was
inundated with pro-gambling bills.
Most focused on allowing video
gaming of one sort or another, but
there were also attempts at passing
bills that would have cleared the way
for full-fledged casinos to open in
various locations around the state.

Milton McGregor started pumping money into the campaign coffers of
politicians — on both sides of the aisle — and hiring some of the best
lobbyists in the state to make his wishes known. He became a sort of
kingmaker, or at a minimum a political-career killer. (File photo)

Most of those bills failed before reaching the floor for votes, either languishing in committee or just
missing the call before the session expired. The closest McGregor and other gambling supporters got to
passing a bill came in 1999, when a video-poker bill slipped past the House with a one-vote victory and
seemed destined to pass the Senate.
Lawmakers opposing the bill, which would've allowed the state's four dog tracks to use video poker and
video blackjack machines, filibustered — speaking well into the night before a vote to end the filibuster
was taken. Those opposing the bill all but conceded, chiding the other lawmakers for passing the video
poker bill and allowing then-Gov. Don Siegelman's lottery proposal bill to pass on the same day.


But a short time later, the final vote came in: 20-14 against. It was a surprise even to those who opposed
it. Today, McGregor contends the bill was upended by a surprise influx of cash at the last minute by
Mississippi gaming interests. That move helped turn two votes against the proposal, and a plan that
would've offset those losses failed to materialize.
Shocked Greenetrack CEO Nat Winn told the AP that night that his track would "... just try to survive."
It was the end of a long fight for Winn, McGregor and others who insisted the tracks were in the midst of a
slow death, unable to bring in enough revenue to sustain themselves without additional gambling options.
They had battled their opposition — the Christian Coalition, Baptists, Mississippi gaming interests and a
number of lawmakers — in some of the state's most memorable and bitter political wars.
The fight had cost two men the governor's mansion. Gov. Guy Hunt, found guilty in 1993 of ethics
charges relating to a $200,000 transfer of funds from his inaugural account for personal use, blamed
McGregor for his woes. In a post-trial press conference, Hunt, who had opposed gambling legislation,
said his problems began when McGregor's "best friend" was appointed to the Alabama Ethics
Supporters of Hunt told the New York Times that the plan to oust the governor was hatched between
McGregor and prominent Democratic and Republican lawmakers at a Montgomery pizza restaurant —
leading some in the state to dub the ordeal "The Pizzeria Conspiracy." The conspiracy theory was that
Hunt's anti-gambling stance led to the McGregor-plot. To this, McGregor said only, "I think he's
With Hunt gone, in his place
stepped Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom Jr., a
popular candidate and a supporter
of "responsible-gambling"
legislation. A year later, in the
campaign for governor, Folsom
held a double-digit lead over
challenger Fob James.
Then Folsom and his family took a
trip to the Cayman Islands. On
McGregor's plane. The ensuing
uproar over the sitting governor
being flown around at a reduced
price by a guy pushing gambling
legislation was enough to jumpstart
a seemingly dead James'
Then-Alabama Gov. Guy Hunt was found guilty in 1993 on ethics charges
related to personal use of his inaugural funds. Here he shows his pardon,
granted in 1998, after he paid restitution. Hunt, who opposed gambling,
blamed his legal woes on McGregor. (File photo)

By election time, Folsom was out
and James was in. The fight for
gambling legislation had another
speedbump in the way, with the
anti-gambling James in the

governor's mansion.
That was a bad blow for the dog track owners — made especially bad by a brand new threat to business.
And this one was in-state.



Indian tribe ups the ante
Poarch Creeks make big move
If there were no signs, the fact that you are standing on an Indian reservation in Atmore, some 120 miles
south of Montgomery down I-65, might be lost on you. The buildings are modern. The furnishings inside
council offices, save for a few portraits of past chiefs and leaders, are not particularly Native American in
their style. There is a modern police department, fire department, sewer and water system, health care
facility and court.
The residents all enjoy health insurance at no cost. The cop cars look new. The reservation services,
such as police and sewer, are provided to the rest of Atmore at no cost. The town, once no more than a
turn-off point on the way to Holman State Prison, is seeing remarkable growth.
"We are doing very well," says Robbie McGhee, the treasurer for the tribe's council. "The town and county
are doing very well because of our success here."
That success is due to a gleaming, 17-story, 236-room structure called the Wind Creek Hotel & Casino. It
has a 50,000-square-foot gaming floor filled with electronic bingo machines that function and play much
like traditional slots.
Wind Creek in Atmore, and its sister location in
Wetumpka, are not unlike most other upscale hotels
and casinos. At the Atmore location, there are nice
restaurants, an ice cream parlor, a bowling alley, a
movie theatre, a resort-level spa and an
amphitheater. The location in Wetumpka has similar
They are nice, and they are popular. On holiday
weekends, the hotels are routinely booked solid.
There is steady occupancy throughout the week,
and on a typical weekday, the gaming floors, while
not crowded, draw a solid crowd.
The numbers back that up. The Poarch casinos
increased revenue by 64 percent in 2010 and
increased it another 30 percent in 2011. According
to its annual report, in 2012, the tribe took in more
than $600 million and annual profits increased to
$332 million. Annual payouts to each tribe member
were into the tens of thousands of dollars.

In 1983, the Poarch Creeks opened their first bingo hall,
Creek Bingo Palace, attracting a mostly elderly clientele. (File

"We are providing for ourselves here," McGhee
said. "Not only do we provide for ourselves, we
provide for the entire county. We paved the roads.
We put in fire hydrants. We installed traffic lights.
Pretty much anything Atmore has needed it has

been able to get with our help."
The tribe is hauling in so much money, it's giving it away in what is basically an effort to buy good will and
friendship. Elmore and Montgomery counties each get $100,000 annually from the tribe. It has donated
millions to local school systems as well as the schools in Atmore.


Indirectly, the new casino in Atmore has been an economic development magnet. An interstate exit that
had a run-down casino and one hotel now has five restaurants, two more hotels and a gas station.
Walmart is set to open a store in Atmore as well.
It wasn't always like this, though. Less than 30 years ago, the Poarch Creek tribe was struggling to find a
foothold and keep its head above water.
In 1983, the Creeks opened their first bingo hall, Creek Bingo Palace, attracting a mostly elderly clientele
to a smoky hall where players bought paper bingo cards, daubed numbers to match a specific pattern and
hopefully screamed "bingo!" every 10 minutes. The bingo games, primitive as they were, brought in a
steady stream of cash, and like everyone else, the Creeks wanted more.
As Milton McGregor and others were fighting for video poker machines through the '90s, the Creeks were
waging their own battles on both the state and federal levels. In 1993, after signing a deal with Harrah's to
build a $60-million casino in Wetumpka, the Creeks sued the state in an attempt to force Alabama to
enter into a gaming compact.
The suit followed the passage of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act in 1988, which set up rules for the
types of games tribes could operate on their lands. The Act established three classes of gaming: Class I,
which includes social games played for prizes of minimal value; Class II, which includes bingo played in
paper or electronic formats, and any card games allowed under state law; and Class III, which includes all
other forms of gaming.
Basically, the IGRA stated that tribes can only conduct gaming within the boundaries of classifications
legal elsewhere in the state. So, if an Alabama county permits bingo in any form, the Creeks can legally
operate Class II games.
The IGRA was necessary because states and tribes all over the country were engaged in legal fights over
what games the tribes could operate. In some locations, the tribes, believing their lands to be sovereign,
simply opened up full-fledged casinos and started welcoming customers. In California, two tribes filed
lawsuits when sheriffs tried to stop them, and the cases worked their way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The
court ruled the Indian lands to be sovereign and out of reach of state laws. In response, Congress passed
the IGRA to give states some authority over what happens within their borders.
"Basically, it did what Alabama has refused to do so
far — set clear rules and boundaries," McGhee

"We wrote those findings out because we had sheriffs
and law enforcement people from all over the state
coming to us and saying, 'Look, we're spending
thousands of dollars we don't have chasing down the
bingo operations, and it's only a misdemeanor.' "

But as the Creeks found out, the IGRA did not
require states to enter into compacts with tribes. A
federal appeals court ruled against the Creeks in
the case, but as McGhee and several legal
scholars have noted, the loss might have turned out
to be a win. In the decision, the court laid out how
the tribes could legally bypass state governments
and apply to the U.S. Secretary of the Interior for
gaming rights.
That's exactly what the Creeks did.

After several years of battling Alabama lawmakers
in court and at various hearings, the tribe took
advantage of state constitutional amendments that
allowed for bingo. In the early '90s, the Creeks installed an electronic version of "pull-tab" games, which
Troy King, former attorney general


were paper games that required players to remove pieces of paper from certain sections of the game
ticket to reveal numbers or letters that might line up to award a prize. The electronic versions of the
games functioned like a traditional slot machine.
However, the National Indian Gaming Commission, assigned with writing the rules under which tribes and
states must abide, determined that pull-tab games fall into the Class II gaming category which requires
states and tribes to reach an agreement, or compact, before the games are legal. That ruling resulted in
the games being yanked from the Creek facilities in 1994.
But other forms of video gaming came and went quietly from the tribe's locations, including video poker
and blackjack, and the tribe kept its lucrative bingo hall operational. In the late '90s, a new machine hit the
market — electronic bingo.
According to the manufacturers, it was bingo in electronic form, meaning it could pass the test for a Class
II game and also be installed and played in any state that allowed traditional bingo games without seeking
a compact. The games were a hit, and they were about to change the political landscape of Alabama

Electronic machines change everything, strengthen VictoryLand
Milton McGregor remembers well the first day he saw an electronic bingo machine. In July 2001, he went
to lunch with a couple of his attorneys and suggested they ride to Wetumpka to see the Poarch Creek
setup. The Creeks had recently installed electronic bingo machines and there were rumors that business
was booming.
"They had their setup at that time — it was before they built their first casino out there — and they were in
modulars, and I swear to you, the place looked like it was on fire from all the smoke billowing out of the
place," McGregor said. "They had the front doors open and the cigarette smoke was pouring out from all
the people in there."
McGregor and his attorneys strolled around the casino, which he said was about three-quarters full in the
middle of the day. The reality of the situation wasn't lost on McGregor.
"The place was a dump, and they were doing good business," McGregor said. "I told my attorneys, 'If you
did this in a nice location, with modern conveniences and a tasteful setup, it could be very popular."
Boy, could it ever.
The electronic bingo craze hit Alabama in 2003, with Tuskegee's Johnny Ford striking the first blow. A
state representative at the time, Ford had pushed a "bingo for books" amendment in the 2002 legislative
session, but the measure failed. In 2003, he returned with a plan — instead of filing one bill, he filed three.
The three bills each allowed for bingo, but each was slightly different. Ford's plan was to distract
lawmakers with the demands in two bills, such as allowing full-fledged casino gambling, and then quietly
slip a "harmless" bingo bill through that included a Trojan horse. And that's essentially what he did,
slipping a bill through that didn't define bingo or include prize caps.
Without caps, bingo players could potentially win unlimited pots — a setup that would allow VictoryLand
to advertise huge pots and compete with true casino-style slot machines. The amendment also spelled
out that the Macon County sheriff would determine the legality of any bingo games played in the county.


During the same session, Greenetrack owner Nat Winn also managed to get a bingo amendment passed,
but his capped winnings of a single pot at $10,000.
Both amendments required votes by county residents for approval, and supporters and detractors set
about lobbying voters. In newspaper ads and TV commercials and on dozens of fliers scattered about
Macon County, those for and against electronic bingo urged voters to see it their way. In the end, the fight
was pointless. Both amendments sailed to easy wins, with about three-quarters of voters in each county
in favor.
Once on the books, almost overnight, VictoryLand once again became a major player. Electronic bingo
machines, which look and act remarkably like slot machines, started to roll in, and with them came
money. By July of 2004, McGregor had more than 1,500 machines up and running at VictoryLand. Within
three years, he would have 6,000 machines.
"We were finally able to compete again with the Indians and with the folks over in Mississippi," McGregor
said. "And we were following the law."
A gambling task force raid on a bingo hall in White Hall ended with 101 electronic bingo machines and
more than $560,000 being seized March 19, 2009.
To make sure of that, also in July 2004, newly-appointed attorney general Troy King stopped by
VictoryLand and most of the gambling facilities in the state to get a firsthand look at the machines. King
said he had received complaints that the machines were possibly illegal and he wanted to take a look for
He ended up doing much more than that. King began a "study" of the games to determine their legality.
"I had two sides telling me two different things and they both sounded credible to me," King said. "So, I
broke down what these machines do and took a look at what the law was out there at the time.
"I ended up going to Walmart one night, went to the toy aisle and bought a children's bingo game so I
could get the instructions out and use them."
King also factored in federal law and recent court rulings. He used it all to issue a set of findings, in the
form of a press release, outlining the guidelines for "legal bingo" in Alabama. Those guidelines, released
in November 2004, required that bingo machines include a 5x5 bingo card, have a random ball drawing,
include a predetermined pattern and multiple players — all tenets of traditional bingo games.
"We wrote those findings out because we had sheriffs and law enforcement people from all over the state
coming to us and saying, 'Look, we're spending thousands of dollars we don't have chasing down the
bingo operations, and it's only a misdemeanor,' " King said. "They needed guidance. That's what we
provided, and to this day, nearly 10 years later, no one has challenged the findings we put in that report
— no one has disputed them."
King's report, while not a crushing blow, didn't sit well with the bingo casino owners. For most, McGregor
included, it meant ditching machines that didn't comply with the law. For some, such as the White Hall
gaming hall in Lowndes County, it meant complete shutdown.
But the takeaway for King was that bingo, like blackjack and solitaire and most other games, can be
played in an electronic format.
"When I truly became convinced that these (electronic bingo) games weren't traditional slots or video
poker games was when they allowed me to play a five-card stud poker game," King said. "On the


machine, as I'm playing, there's a pay table — two-of-a-kind is this much, three-of-a-kind is this, whatever
— and then off to the side there's a pay table that's for traditional bingo. The payout was based on the
bingo card every time. You were winning or losing bingo."
What King came to believe — and what has been the central argument of the casino owners around the
state — is that electronic bingo machines are built to look and function much like a slot machine on the
outside, because that's what consumers want. But on the inside, where the games are actually played,
the computer operating the console is playing the game of bingo.
"These machines would not be used in areas which allow traditional slot machines," said Richard
Williamson, a gaming expert who has worked in testing labs assuring the quality and function of gaming
devices. Williamson testified for VictoryLand attorneys in a recent court hearing.
In that testimony, Williamson detailed how an electronic bingo machine functions differently than a slot
machine. The differences are necessary in order to meet state and federal bingo requirements, he
testified. He referred to each machine as a "player station," and said several machines are hooked
together through a computer server that allows players to play against each other.
Responding to King's 2004 report, McGregor, Winn and others rid their locations of noncompliant
machines. In mid-January 2005, King reported that he re-visited VictoryLand and Greenetrack and found
their machines to be in compliance with his guidelines.
"They had done what we asked of them and they had complied with the law," King said recently. "I still
believe that to this day. They spent thousands of dollars to change out those machines and comply with
what we asked. They were legal. They are legal."
Not everyone would agree with that.

The unexpected trouble
More states enter fray over electronic bingo's legality
For roughly a four-year stretch, the legality of electronic bingo seemed to be mostly settled. Those who
disagreed with it begrudgingly conceded that the casino owners had located an adequate loophole after
two decades of searching and were resting comfortably on piles of ill-gotten cash within that crack in the
legal door.
The conceders included Bob Riley, who was into his second gubernatorial term by that point. Riley had
long been against gambling, believing it to be a drain on the poor. He famously told McGregor, "I don't like
how you're making your money, but I can't stop you."
This was not just an Alabama phenomenon. Across the country, several states that had fought both
Indian tribes and regular casino owners over the legality of electronic bingo consistently were coming to
accept a world in which bingo games could be played electronically.
In Oklahoma, for example, with a law on the books that contained the line, "This act shall not permit the
operation of slot machines," voters in 2004 approved the use of pull-tab games and two-button bingo
games (meaning players had to hit a button to start the game and another button to claim a win). In 2006,
the state approved games similar to the machines operated at VictoryLand and Greenetrack.
California, Louisiana and Maryland also allow some form of electronic bingo while also outlawing straight
slot machines.


In that climate, and with the AG's blessing, McGregor set his sights on building an entertainment center at
VictoryLand. The new facility would have a luxury hotel, restaurants, a new gaming center, a spa and a
1,500-seat entertainment venue. But the heart of the new facility would be a massive new gaming room,
with 6,000 bingo machines pumping out the cash necessary to sustain it all.
Renovations to expand the game room came first, followed closely by construction of a 300-room hotel,
The Oasis. The result was a golden, glittering structure surrounded by palm trees and a Vegas-style
water fountain. There were 2,300 employees keeping up with the bingo machines, the hotel, the
steakhouse located within the restaurant and dog racing facility.
Total bill: $200 million.

Renovations to expand the game room came first, followed closely by construction of a 300-room hotel, The Oasis. (File photo)

"A lot of that was my money, but it wasn't all my money," McGregor said. "A lot of people invested in this
— companies like Bally's — and do you think they would've invested without doing their homework and
making sure it was all legal? Of course it was legal."
Had it just been McGregor and Winn, and maybe even Ronnie Gilley, who was pushing hard to open up a
massive entertainment venue in Enterprise called Country Crossing, the whole electronic bingo craze
might have been OK. After all, the attorney general had ruled on it and Gov. Bob Riley had other things
going on.
The problem, according to Riley and those who were working closely with the governor at the time, was
that it wasn't just those facilities operating electronic bingo games. The games were in seemingly every
business in the state. Rural gas stations had them. Rundown strip malls had them. And sheriffs and
police chiefs were asking for answers on how to deal with it.


Riley said a visit from state Sen. Charles Bishop, who complained about fly-by-night bingo parlors
opening in Walker County, prompted him to assign a young staff attorney, Bryan Taylor, to look into the
legality of it all.
Taylor returned a few days later with a message that Riley said surprised him: "(Taylor) says, 'they're all
illegal — all of them.' "
Taylor explained that a 2006 Alabama Supreme Court ruling, which prevented electronic bingo games to
be played in Birmingham, included a broad definition of the term "slot machines" that was first presented
by former Justice Sue Bell Cobb in 1997. That definition essentially states that when a constitutional
amendment fails to define the term "bingo," then it means the "ordinary game of bingo."
Many believe it was a bit of a stretch, since the ruling in that 1997 case also made it clear that an
amendment and its intentions could alter the definition of bingo. But Taylor said the basis of the argument
was formed: "The court was saying that it was less about form and more about substance. If it looks like a
slot machine and acts like a slot machine, it's a slot machine."
With the two rulings and the state Supreme Court seemingly behind the idea that the bingo machines
were illegal slots, Riley said he became convinced that the games were illegal.
To make sure, he asked attorneys from one of the state's most powerful law firms, the Bradley Arant
Boult Cummings firm in Birmingham, to review Taylor's opinions. They concurred with Taylor, according
to Riley. (An interesting note: in a 2005 opinion provided to a financial institution seeking guidance on
whether to lend money to McGregor for renovations at VictoryLand, Bradley Arant attorneys deemed the
casino to be in compliance with the law. In fact, their attorneys stated that the only way VictoryLand would
not be in compliance was if a new constitutional amendment were written.)
With the legal opinions squared away, Riley said he had no doubt that something had to be done about
the illegal gambling operations.
On the other side of the fight, however, there was a strong belief that something else was driving the
sudden interest Riley had for shutting down Alabama's gaming operations — money.
The way they see it, King was already going after the small-time shops that weren't complying with state
laws, and VictoryLand and Greenetrack had been operating for years, dumping millions into state coffers.
So, they contend, something else had to be driving the desire to shut down these businesses.
McGregor and many others came to believe that Riley had accepted money from the Choctaw Indians,
which were operating a number of casinos in Mississippi. The Choctaws made it clear they wanted to
shut down the Alabama gaming operations, and they were willing to pay to do so. They hired the best
known money-spreading lobbyist in the business, Jack Abramoff, to do their bidding. And, seemingly, no
move was off limits.
Riley has consistently denied receiving money directly from the Choctaws. However, he has admitted
taking money from the Republican Governors Association and from a lobbyist who represented the
Choctaws. That's where things get a bit convoluted.
Abramoff and his partner, Michael Scanlon, and the Choctaws dumped buckets of money into the RGA to
support Republican candidates in meaningful races. Scanlon's company alone donated $500,000 to the
RGA in 2002.


The RGA gave Riley $600,000 during his 2002 race with Don Siegelman for governor, and Scanlon
personally donated $100,000 more to Riley. Scanlon had previously worked with Riley when he was in
"I've never spoken to a Choctaw, I've never asked a Choctaw for money, I've never received a dime of
money from a Choctaw," Riley said during a recent interview at his lobbying office in Homewood. "I told
the (RGA) that we will not take any gambling money. They came back later and did an audit and said not
one dime of Choctaw money came into the governor's race in 2002. That has not changed. It's beyond
Case closed? Not by a long shot.


Down in the muck
Dirty lobbying deals muddy the waters
In June 2006, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, chaired by Arizona Sen. John McCain, released its
final report on an investigation of a scheme called "Gimme Five" that was concocted by Abramoff and
Scanlon. The goal of the scheme was to separate six Indian tribes from millions of dollars with as little
work — but with lots of lies and scheming — as possible. It was a wild success, scoring Abramoff and
Scanlon more than $66 million in pure profit over the course of just four years.
The scam worked like this: Abramoff, who was working with a reputable lobbying firm and representing
several tribes, would recommend to the tribes that they hire a "grassroots" consultant to help work up
opposition to potential threats to their gaming operations, such as potential electronic bingo casinos in
Abramoff would then casually recommend Scanlon. Once the tribe hired Scanlon, he and Abramoff would
secretly work together to come up with a mixture of real and imagined tactics to achieve the tribes' goals,
and then grossly overcharge them. Both Abramoff and Scanlon were convicted for their roles in the scam.
Abramoff got the idea while working in the late '90s for the tribes, particularly the Choctaws. He realized
that the gaming operations the tribes were operating were bringing in large amounts of money and that
the tribes were just gullible and naïve enough to fork over large amounts of money for political activities
they didn't really understand.
For example, during that failed 1999 attempt to get a video poker bill pushed through the Alabama
Legislature, lobbying hard against that bill was former Christian Coalition executive director Ralph Reed.
Reed had enlisted the help of several pastors in the state, who had in turn convinced their congregations
to make calls against the bill. There were even church bulletin inserts urging good Christians to call their
lawmakers about the sinful gambling bill.


For that work, Reed earned more than $1.3 million
from the Choctaws, according to the McCain report,
in just three months. And there was even more paid
out, the report concluded, with a variety of entities
skimming cash from the transactions. Included in
that was famed anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist,
whose Americans for Tax Reform group was paid
$25,000 for serving as a pass-through for money
between the Choctaws and Reed.
With Scanlon on board, he and Abramoff began to
work over all of the tribes, marking up invoices and
falsifying services. Scanlon was particularly
valuable to the Choctaws because of his
connections to Riley. Prior to his work as a con
artist, Scanlon worked for one year on Riley's
congressional staff, serving as a press secretary,
before moving on to work for congressman Tom
Riley said it was their previous relationship, and
hearing that Scanlon was a successful and wellfunded lobbyist, that led him to call Scanlon and ask
for a donation during the 2002 campaign. He
stressed that Scanlon never requested action
against the Poarch Creeks or any other gambling
operation in Alabama.
The McCain investigation, however, uncovered
emails between Scanlon and Abramoff that seem to
indicate there was more behind the Riley donation
than simply helping out a former boss.

“We were doing everything we could to stop the
competition to the Choctaws, which included the
Poarch Creeks at that point.”
Jack Abramoff

In a December 2002 email, Abramoff wrote to Scanlon about a conversation he had with Nell Rogers, a
planner working for the Choctaws who was the primary contact for Abramoff and Scanlon in their dealings
with the tribe. In the email, Abramoff said he told Rogers that the Choctaws needed to hire Scanlon again
to fight off a potential casino in Louisiana, and then says "I reminded her that if you had not done what
you did in Alabama, she would have to spend millions over the next four years (damn!)…."
Abramoff then writes: "She definitely wants Riley to shut down the Poarch Creek operation, including his
announcing that anyone caught gambling there can't qualify for a state contract or something like that."
In addition to the Abramoff email, the McCain report also included a quote from a Louisiana tribe
chairman stating that Abramoff told him that the Choctaws paid over $13 million to get Riley elected in
2002. It's a claim that Riley has consistently and adamantly denied, pointing out that his campaign raised
less than $13 million total from all donors.
Riley also said that no one from the Mississippi gaming interests, the Choctaws or Scanlon has "ever
asked me to do anything on their behalf. Not once."
In an email response to questions posed by the Montgomery Advertiser, Abramoff said he recalled
Scanlon donating "a significant amount of money to the (RGA)" and that the money was to be "directed to


"We were doing everything we could to stop the competition to the Choctaws, which included the Poarch
Creeks at that point," Abramoff wrote. "We developed a number of measures to impede that facility,
including the one mentioned (in the 2002 email). The email suggests that we were going to lobby Riley to
support that particular approach. I believe there were likely several approaches that we were lobbying him
to support, but (I) can't recall them all."
Abramoff said he can't recall what, if anything, Riley did for the Choctaws because he and Scanlon were
working numerous deals at the time. He noted that he and Scanlon weren't pressuring Riley because
"that's not an effective way to lobby an ally, and we considered him an ally."
Whether intentional or not, Riley became a Choctaw hero.

Two sides of the law
State, federal opinions on gambling differ
Once he determined that electronic bingo machines were illegal, Riley said he was left with two options:
Either turn a blind eye or enforce what he believed to be the law. To that end, Riley called together
several law enforcement officials and attorneys and asked for opinions.
Riley appoints a task force to crack down on illegal gambling in Alabama.
Eventually, they settled in December 2008 on a gambling task force headed up by former Jefferson
County District Attorney David Barber. The task force's main objective was to locate and gather
information on illegal gambling operations in the state in order to aid local sheriffs and prosecutors in their
fight against gambling.
The choice of Barber to lead the task force was notable for one reason: He wasn't Troy King, who was
still the AG and top law enforcement official in the state. In fact, within the previous three years, King said
he and his office had helped shut down 30 illegal gambling operations.
The fundamental difference between Riley's views on electronic bingo machines and King's views on the
same machines also happen to be the crux of the fight that's still ongoing. And as odd as it might seem,
it's likely that both men — and McGregor and Nat Winn and all of the bingo supporters and detractors —
are right, depending on whose interpretation of the law you're relying on.
Basically, it boils down to this: Can a six-second game that requires no skill, no call of "bingo" and no
daubing of a game card still qualify under the law as bingo?
According to the federal government and several federal and state courts, probably so.
According to the Alabama Supreme Court, probably not.
Let's deal with the federal courts first. As mentioned earlier, IGRA divides games into three categories,
and courts have consistently held that electronic bingo games fall within the parameters of Class II
games, which also contains the traditional bingo game. In fact, IGRA was altered slightly to include
electronic bingo games within the list of Class II games that could be put in Indian casinos without first
receiving state permission.
Most states have generally accepted this ruling. Recognizing that it would provide Indian casinos with an
advantage and result in millions of tax dollars being missed — since Indian casinos pay no state or local


taxes — states have generally allowed the machines where voters approve. This isn't the case for every
state, but a majority have followed this path.
Alabama, however, has not. And it presents one of the trickiest legal conundrums in the country, thanks
to its archaic constitution.
Bingo is considered a form of a lottery, and lotteries are illegal in Alabama unless a constitutional
amendment is passed to specifically allow it in a certain area — much the same way alcohol sales are
legalized in some counties but not others. In order to for a county to play any form of bingo, a
constitutional amendment is required.
In order for a county to legalize bingo — even the charity and church games — the Legislature must
approve the amendment. Once that happens, the amendment goes on the ballot during the next election
That has happened 18 times in Alabama counties, making bingo in some form legal. But that doesn't
mean electronic bingo is legal in all 18, or in any of them.
Because also important in this process is the wording of the amendments and what the intent of the
amendments were when they were passed by the Legislature and by the voters. For example, if the
amendment simply makes "bingo" legal, and there was no discussion that the games in question might be
played on electronic machines, state courts have ruled that the game made legal is only the traditional
game of bingo.
But in Macon and Greene counties, the circumstances were different. In those counties, which passed
amendments in 2003, local legislators drew up bills specifically to make electronic bingo legal — and give
the struggling dog tracks that contributed so heavily to local tax coffers a boost. Greene's amendment
specifically cites electronic machines, while the Macon amendment leaves it simply as bingo.
When both bills were brought up in the Legislature there was lengthy discussion about them making
electronic bingo legal. Later, when the amendments were placed on local ballots, there was extensive
debate and campaigning that included ads, fliers and newspaper columns stating the votes were to
legalize electronic bingo.
"It was pretty clear to everyone at that time what we were voting on," former state Sen. Myron Penn said
recently. Penn was responsible for pushing the amendment in the Senate, while Ford picked up the duty
in the House.
"I really can't believe that this is even in question now," Penn said. "It was just a fact back then."
Does that make electronic bingo in Macon and Greene counties legal? There is no clear answer.
Even as the Republican-dominated Alabama Supreme Court has mostly backed the Riley side in this
fight, it has stopped short of ruling against the machines in Macon and Greene counties. In its most
quoted decision on the matter of electronic bingo — the Cornerstone vs. Barber decision that laid out a
definition of what traditional bingo is — the court opinion mentioned numerous bingo amendments in the
It didn't mention the amendment in Macon.
There is currently a case pending before Judge William Shashy in Montgomery Circuit Court that might be
the first step in finally addressing the Macon issue. That case stems from a raid at VictoryLand and the
state's request now to destroy machines it seized from the casino. Lawyers for VictoryLand are arguing


that the machines are legal bingo machines that voters in that county approved. A ruling in the case is
expected sometime this month.
In the meantime, with no clear guidance on the law, and with lots of money available for lawyers and
investigators and PR people, the fight over bingo has turned downright ugly on both sides.

Things escalate quickly
Legal fights, public protests come like a flood
Riley's insistence that he formed his task force because of the inundation of bingo halls around the state
has some validity. In the three years after King's statement that some form of electronic bingo is legal,
more than 300 charities in Alabama received licenses to operate bingo games.
To demonstrate the atmosphere at the time, because many of the county amendments that allowed bingo
put limitations on the hours in the day the charity could operate bingo games, several charities combined
licenses in order to operate 24-hours per day. There were also fights between charities over locations and
intimidation tactics used to coerce charities to give up their licenses.
Even McGregor says he supported the task force's work in cleaning up the illegal operations.
"They should've been closed down — most of them — because they were illegal," McGregor said. "We
were legal, but those folks had no business doing it."
But even as the task force was seizing machines in Walker County and Mobile, lawmakers in 2009 were
introducing another bill to legalize and tax certain electronic bingo games. That bill would have limited
bingo operations to counties with amendments and set up a system for taxing the bingo halls. Lawmakers
estimated this would pump $200 million into the economy.
The bill, dubbed the "Sweet Home Alabama" bill, was marketed as a way to let state voters settle the
bingo problem. It was accompanied by millions of dollars' worth of TV, radio and newspaper ads — some
featuring country music stars — touting the merits of the bill.
Watch security camera footage of the 2009 raid on the White Hall casino.
And that's when things got crazy. First, a judge ruled the state had no authority to raid the White Hall
gaming parlor in Lowndes County, and he ordered the machines and money returned. Riley appealed
that decision to the state Supreme Court, and both he and King filed dueling briefs over the legality of
Riley's task force.
It was King's first foray into the fight. He argued that the governor had no authority to conduct law
enforcement operations without participation from the attorney general. Riley countered that King was
failing to perform his sworn duty to stop illegal activity, and by doing so left Riley no choice but to find an
alternative option.
In April 2009, the state Supreme Court ruled in Riley's favor. It would start a run of favorable opinions for
Riley from the court. There was another favorable decision in November. And then another the following
January, which allowed the biggest raid to date, on the Country Crossing casino in Dothan.
With it clear that Riley's task force was not stopping at the fly-by-night bingo parlors, and would be going
after the state's largest casinos, the heat was turned up.


At the BCS National Championship Game between Alabama and Texas in Pasadena, Calif., a plane
flying a banner reading "Impeach Corrupt Governor Bob Riley" circled the Rose Bowl stadium. King
began lobbying local district attorneys to take control of raids in their towns. Local politicians began to
speak out and fight back against Riley's raids.
And Milton McGregor's investigators caught task force chief David Barber slipping.
Barber resigned in January 2010 after McGregor revealed his investigators had trailed Barber to a
Mississippi casino, where they recording him winning $2,300. It was McGregor's first public foray into the
gambling debate since King's 2005 announcement that certain machines were legal. But McGregor had
been working behind the scenes for some time, funding ads and helping organize attorneys and the legal
strategy against Riley.
McGregor said he started moving shortly after that September 2008 lunch meeting he held with Riley —
the one at which McGregor claims Riley lobbied him to hire Rob Riley. "I knew something was coming,
that he wasn't going to let it go," McGregor said.
In a way, McGregor says he was already doing business with Rob Riley. One afternoon in 2004, Rob
Riley and his University of Alabama college roommate had shown up at McGregor's office unannounced
to meet with the casino boss about possible investment opportunities.
Rob Riley's roommate, a former Wall Street worker named Robert Sigler, was the founder of a number of
investment and finance companies, most notably Crimsonica and Global Trust Partners. McGregor said
Sigler and Rob Riley pitched a number of investment opportunities. Rob Riley acknowledged going to
McGregor's office, but said he went only because Sigler asked for an introduction and he was helping a

At the BCS National Championship Game between Alabama and Texas in Pasadena, Calif., a plane flying a banner reading
"Impeach Corrupt Governor Bob Riley" circled the Rose Bowl stadium. (File photo)


Rob Riley was listed as the attorney and a board member for Crimsonica.
The most potentially lucrative business deal entered into by the group was a plan to set up a nationwide
lottery in Russia — a plan that would ultimately go awry for many reasons, including the fact the Russian
mafia didn't care for the idea.
Rob Riley said he had no interest in that deal and warned Sigler that it wouldn't work. Ultimately, when
the deal did fall apart, the investors — including McGregor, Sigler and Montgomery doctor David
Thrasher — lost a substantial sum of money. There has been speculation through the years that Rob
Riley also lost money, but he insists he had no involvement in the lottery deal, although he admits to
losing money on some of Sigler's other ventures.
Asked if the failed dealings with Sigler and Rob Riley played a role in his fallout with Bob Riley, McGregor
declined to answer. He also declined to provide details of the deals or say what resulted in their failures,
saying it would be unfair to the other investors.
However, Bob Riley is emphatic that the failed deals had nothing to do with his decision to take on
McGregor personally. But he did take him on.
In pre-dawn raids in late January 2010, Riley's task force, now being led by Mobile DA John Tyson,
attempted to confiscate machines at both VictoryLand and Country Crossing. They left empty-handed
from both, as tips prepared the casinos for the action.
In neither instance did the task force possess a search warrant — a tactic Tyson thought up, relying on
the law enforcement principle that a search warrant is not needed when the illegal act is performed in
plain sight. But it quickly became clear the tactic wouldn't work, leaving Tyson to take on the arduous task
of convincing a local judge to sign a search warrant for an establishment pumping millions of dollars into
the local economy and benefitting thousands of local voters.
In Dothan, the task force was able to find a judge. But in Macon, Riley again had to turn to the state
Supreme Court, which continued its helpful ways. In February, the justices lifted an injunction put in place
by a Macon County judge and gave Tyson the green light to raid VictoryLand.
But McGregor kept his casino closed to avoid the raid, and the public debate swirled. As casino owners
and pro-gambling politicians urged Troy King to take over the task force, and as cooler heads urged Riley
and Tyson to take their cases to court instead of relying on raids, the whole thing nearly spiraled out of
control in late-February 2010.
Gov. Bob Riley was supposed to address a group of anti-gambling supporters in front of the Alabama
State House, but a loud pro-bingo group nearly stole the show.
At an anti-gambling rally on the Statehouse steps, which was inexplicably held just moments after a progambling rally was held in the same location, the two sides exchanged heated words. Unemployed casino
workers numbering into the hundreds shouted down Riley and his wife, Patsy, who were attempting to
speak at the event. Before long, the workers and gambling opponents were screaming at each other. The
event ended without violence, but it was an indicator of how heated the issue had become.
A few days later, the 2010 incarnation of the "Sweet Home Alabama" bill failed in the House.



The battle is joined
Greene, Macon counties become biggest fronts in the fight
As Riley's task force slowly made its way across the state shutting down electronic bingo operations and
forcing smalltime operators out of business, it quickly became obvious that the biggest fights would be in
Greene and Macon Counties, where Greenetrack and VictoryLand are located.
Country Crossing and its developer, Ronnie Gilley, certainly would have been players as well, but a
federal indictment and subsequent guilty plea by Gilley ended his days as a major player in the state.
Also indicted in that case were McGregor and nine others, including state lawmakers and lobbyists.
That federal case, which centered on claims that McGregor and other gambling supporters had offered
bribes to legislators to get the "Sweet Home Alabama" bill passed, had a number of issues. Most notably:
Some witnesses, who wore mics and secretly recorded conversations, were tainted, with some, such as
state Sen. Scott Beason, recording themselves making racist comments. There was also the larger issue
of the government lacking tangible evidence against the defendants who didn't accept or seek plea
Then there were the questionable tactics — of the prosecutors. To begin with, it was revealed that FBI
agents held a summit with Alabama lawmakers in April, as the House was on the verge of passing the
"Sweet Home Alabama" bill, to inform them that the bill was at the center of a corruption probe. That
move, which longtime FBI and federal law enforcement officials called unprecedented, effectively killed a
bill that seemed destined to pass.
To announce the indictments in the case six months later, U.S. assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer
held a Washington D.C. press conference before sending the accused their charges. Then, instead of
allowing McGregor and the other defendants to turn themselves in, which attorneys for the defendants
said would happen within an hour of notification, FBI agents went to the homes of each and brought them
out in handcuffs. At McGregor's home, his attorney Joe Espy said, a TV news crew was waiting outside
— at 7 a.m. — filming McGregor being escorted to a car in handcuffs.
It took two trials, two years, millions of tax dollars and millions of personal dollars, but eventually
McGregor and his co-defendants were found not guilty by a jury.
"They examined me closer than any person in this country has been examined, and they found nothing —
because I'm clean," McGregor said during a recent interview. "Make sure you put that in there, because
by God, they put me and my family through hell. They listened to my wife reading my grandbabies Bible


"And (the verdict) wasn't because I
had good lawyers — I did have
good ones, but that wasn't the
reason. You don't beat that kind of
a case unless you're innocent."
The odd thing for McGregor, as he
stepped away clean from that trial,
would be that he would spend the
next four years trying to get back
into a courtroom.
As Riley moved out of the
governor's mansion and Robert
Bentley moved in, one thing
became clear: Bentley did not
share Riley's passion for chasing
casino owners. But the attorney
general does.

“They examined me closer than any person in this country has been
A few days after taking over,
Bentley dissolved Riley's task force.
The task force and its war on
Milton McGregor gambling had cost taxpayers nearly
$4 million, and while it had been
successful in shuttering a number of casino operations, it had not been responsible for a single arrest.
examined, and they found nothing — because I'm clean. Make sure you
put that in there, because by God, they put me and my family through
hell. They listened to my wife reading my grandbabies Bible stories.”

The new responsibility for chasing illegal gambling fell to Attorney General Luther Strange. Like Riley,
Strange saw the decisions by the Alabama Supreme Court as an indication that electronic bingo games
are illegal. And as the chief law officer in the state, it was his job to shut them down.
"My goal, and I said this from day one, is to treat everyone fairly, let everyone have their say, have their
day in court," Strange during an April interview. "The court tells us what the rules are and then we move
forward. I don't have a position on gambling. I am required to enforce the law, and it's really that simple."
Strange said he and his staff reviewed the information available when he took office and formed an
opinion of what the bingo law is. He said they withdrew the opinions issued by King, "because those just
weren't consistent with what the Supreme Court had said," and informed everyone of their decisions.
Strange's office views the Cornerstone decision handed down by the Alabama Supreme Court in 2009 as
the backbone of state law concerning bingo in the state. That decision laid out a six-point test for defining
what bingo is, including that it must be played on paper cards, players must daub the cards themselves,
numbers must be called by a live person and winners must claim their prizes by shouting "bingo."



Legal gray area
Interpretation of the law sometimes not that simple
The gray area is here: When passed, some of the bingo amendments were specifically intentioned to
allow electronic bingo. Greene's amendment has the word "electronic" in the amendment. In Macon and
Houston counties, the central debate and vote on the amendments were almost exclusively about
electronic bingo.
According to constitutional law professors, the intent of a constitutional amendment and the goal of the
voters who passed it have consistently been viewed by courts as key factors when determining the
parameters of the amendment. In some cases, those factors have trumped the wording of the
Strange disagrees with that position, and he believes the Supreme Court has made it quite clear that it
believes electronic bingo to be illegal in the state.
However, to demonstrate his goal of fairness, Strange points to his decision to go after the Poarch Creek
operations in the state. "If it's illegal in Greene County and at VictoryLand, it should be illegal on their
lands, according to the law," he said.
Strange is referring to a lawsuit his office brought in federal court challenging the Poarch Creek's right to
operate electronic bingo casinos in the state. A federal judge ruled that Alabama has no standing to
challenge the games on Indian lands, noting that the issue has already been determined and settled by
Strange's action came on the heels of a lawsuit filed by the Escambia County Commission, which was
represented by Bryan Taylor, the former Riley legal advisor and a state senator at the time of the suit.
The Commission cited a recent U.S. Supreme Court case, Carcieri v. Salazar, to claim the Poarch Creeks
had no right to sovereign land because they weren't a federally recognized tribe in 1934. Strange's suit
against the tribe also incorporated that claim.
Congress has made at least two attempts at correcting the bungled language in the Carcieri decision,
which appears to limit the federal government's ability to take lands into trust to only those tribes that
were federally recognized by 1934 at the time of the Indian Reorganization Act. But the bills to correct
that ruling have failed because of a variety of other issues — primarily a deadlocked Congress that has
turned even simple matters into partisan fights.
Still, most courts and the Department of the Interior have held that the Carcieri ruling doesn't have the
damaging effect that some speculate. The DOI has issued an opinion stating it still has authority to
recognize tribes and lawsuits challenging land put into trust prior to the Carcieri decision have mostly
That the Escambia County suit was filed at all is confusing to Robbie McGhee.
"They obviously wanted more tax money, and they said, 'Well, if we win this we can get what we're owed,'
" McGhee said. "And I said, 'What you don't seem to understand is that if you win this, all of this goes
away. This casino that pumps millions into your county is gone. All of these jobs, gone.' It makes no
sense to me, but then, many things don't.
"I really don't get the attitude sometimes. It's as if everyone was happy when we were poor and
sharecroppers. I can't tell you how many politicians showed up down here for photo ops and to talk about


what they would do for us. But now that we're able to care for ourselves and provide a little back, there's
resentment. It's hard to fathom."

The Poarch Creeks weren't the only ones fighting Strange in courtrooms. Attorneys for VictoryLand and
Greenetrack — and those two groups sometimes are the
same — have spent a significant amount of time over the
last three years fighting Strange over search warrants, a
liquor license, and finally, an actual case.
Strange ordered a raid of VictoryLand in Feb. 2013 and a
raid of Greenetrack in March. Prior to the VictoryLand raid,
Strange's office had to get the state Supreme Court to force
Macon County Judge Tom Young to issue a search warrant
for the raid.
Young was not alone in his beliefs. The Alabama Criminal
Court of Appeals also reviewed Young's decision on the
search warrant and unanimously backed the judge.
Young had declined to issue the warrant, in part because
Macon County's amendment requires that the county sheriff
certify the bingo games being played — and Sheriff David
Warren had examined and certified VictoryLand's machines.
The Supreme Court wasn't swayed by Young's ruling and
ordered the warrant granted.
Strange's office also had earlier needed Supreme Court
intervention into a Greenetrack raid, in 2011. The court first
appointed a judge from Birmingham to oversee the case,
Pro-Bingo flier. (File photo)
and he ultimately issued a warrant to Strange's office.
Following the raid, Judge Houston Brown, who issued the
warrant, allowed a hearing at the track's request to consider evidence that Strange's office had
misrepresented evidence to obtain the warrant.
Following that hearing, Brown agreed with Greenetrack, killed the warrant and ordered the machines and
money seized from Greenetrack returned. Brown also found that agents from Alcohol Beverage Control
and an expert retained by Strange's office had lied under oath.
Regardless, earlier this year, the Supreme Court overturned Brown's ruling, saying he had "an erroneous
understanding of the judge's role in a warrant process." A Greene County grand jury, in the meantime,
indicted the ABC agents and the gambling expert for perjury.
Strange is now seeking to intervene in that case with the intent of quashing the charges. A Greene
County pastor has filed a complaint with the Alabama Ethics Commission to determine if such a move
runs afoul of state ethics laws.



Same as it ever was
In the end, Alabama's Supreme Court may hold the key
All of this leaves us in roughly the same spot we were in when the whole uproar got started — one side
says it's all legal, the other side disagrees. The ball is in Judge Shashy's court on that question, but it will
likely be in the laps of the Alabama Supreme Court justices within the year.
As attorneys in nice suits lob accusations back and forth from nice
offices, it is sometimes easy to forget that this all affects real,
hardworking people. Good people. People who don't care about
the legal nuances of "random ball drops" or "source codes" or a
"six-point test."
On a recent drive around Tuskegee, the toll of VictoryLand's
crippled operation was obvious. There are a number of
abandoned homes. The city's streets are a mess in some spots.
Planned development has stalled. The recent news that a Hibbett
Sports store was opening generated two press releases from
Mayor Ford's office.
Look at the numbers and the impact is easy to understand.
The ball is in Judge Shashy's court on that
question, but it will likely be in the laps of
the Alabama Supreme Court justices within
the year. (File photo)

Just five years ago, VictoryLand was employing over 2,300 people
in the county. Many of those jobs were going to low-skill
employees who have few options in the job market, particularly in
a county with Macon's lack of industry. Now, the track employs
about 50 people, most of them taking bets at the pari-mutuel windows — the only portion of VictoryLand
still operating — or serving food and drinks.
With VictoryLand's electronic bingo hall closed due to the state's crackdown on electronic bingo,
economic times in Tuskegee and Shorter are much harder: Lack of work, lack of customers, businesses
closing, crime. Some say they plan to leave Alabama.
The county is shedding people at an astonishing rate. Since 2010, its population is down over 8 percent.
That's the largest in the state by a wide margin.
"People are leaving because they have no jobs," said City of Tuskegee spokesperson Dyann Robinson.
"And what's really bad is that most of those people are our middle class and up people — people who had
options to move and get jobs elsewhere."
The hurt is felt throughout the city — in ways most people overlook. James Samuel runs Tuskegee's
electric company, which supplied VictoryLand's power. The track alone was paying over $1 million per
year in electric costs, Samuel said. Now, they haul in about $800,000.
Same for water. VictoryLand was forking over between $20,000 and $25,000 per month for water. Now,
the 300-room Oasis Hotel sits boarded up. For the first few weeks after the raid in 2013, workers would
go through each room once per week and flush the toilets, just to make sure everything stayed
operational. Even that would help the Tuskegee water company, but a toilet hasn't been flushed in over a
year now.
As adults looking for work have moved out, they've taken their kids with them. Over the past three years,
Macon County is down 23 teacher units — each would've earned about $50,000 per year. Booker T.


Washington High, which was built primarily from money donated by McGregor, can barely afford to stay
"We've had to cut back on athletic funding and several other things to make ends meet," Macon County
school board chairman Theodore Samuel said. "We're in here now trying to fix up a budget and there's
just no way to fill the hole we got. No way."
And there's no real hope of fixing it anytime soon — not
without VictoryLand reopening. Any other fix will require
time, recruitment and a lot of help from the state's
economic development office. So, Ford says he's doing
all he can to attract businesses that will locate to
Tuskegee, and he's also fighting harder than anyone to
get VictoryLand back open.
"We have been denied our rights here in Macon
County," Ford said. "Our people voted for this. It was
properly introduced in the Legislature. It was properly
passed. It was cleared by the Justice Department. It
was placed on our ballots and our people approved it
with 76 percent of the vote. This is what we want here.
It's no different than a town that wants alcohol sales."
The Macon County Courthouse was filled with
VictoryLand's unemployed workers as they filed in to
pick up their checks. (Mickey Welsh / Advertiser)

Victoryland employees line up to pick up their paychecks
at the Macon County Courthouse in Tuskegee, Ala. on
Saturday February 6, 2010. (Montgomery Advertiser,
Mickey Welsh)

There is a similar plight in Greene County, although the
people there haven't experienced quite the same dropoff, because the casino has managed to stay mostly

The AG's office made a deal with the electronic bingo
game distributors following one of the raids on VictoryLand. It would give some of the machines back to
the manufacturers in exchange for an agreement stating the distributors were aware that they would be
prosecuted for distributing illegal gambling devices if future machines showed up at VictoryLand. That
agreement has prevented McGregor from restocking and reopening, as Greenetrack has been able to do.
Still, Nat Winn, Greenetrack's CEO, has been just as much in the fight. He organized a rally in
Tuscaloosa this summer, at which 200 or so supporters rallied in support of electronic bingo. Standing in
the blazing sun, Winn echoed many of Ford's comments, saying they've been treated unfairly and
questioning the motives behind attacking businesses in predominately black counties.
In Tuskegee, Dyann Robinson echoed Robbie McGhee, saying the black community in Tuskegee, like
the Native Americans in Atmore, had finally found a way to survive and thrive with VictoryLand up and
running. Maybe it was controversial, maybe some people disagreed with it, but this was their industry.
"We voted for gambling and we knew full well what we were voting for," Robinson said. "And gambling is
gambling. What does it matter if you do it in six seconds on a machine or in three minutes on a piece of
paper? You're still gambling. But the difference for us is everything. Look at our streets. We can't pave
those. Not now. That's just a little thing. Our friends are gone. Our town is dying.
"But I'll tell you this. We've been in this position before as black people in this state. We fought then and
we'll fight now. These people might just come to find that they should've picked another fight."


After a recent raid attempt, VictoryLand is closed in Shorter. VictoryLand owner Milton McGregor talks
with the Montgomery Advertiser about the attempted raid on his electronic bingo operation by Gov. Bob
Riley's task force on illegal gambling.

Tunnel without light
The road goes on forever
On a sunny Wednesday afternoon in late October, cars are coming and going from the parking lot of the
Southern Star casino in White Hall. The clientele shuffling in and out of the giant, box-shaped structure
situated a couple hundred yards off Highway 80 are mostly elderly and mostly black.
Inside, there are 100 electronic bingo games operating. But these are not
the machines in use at the Poarch Creek facilities, nor are they like the
machines confiscated from VictoryLand most recently and from Southern
Star itself a few years ago.
These machines look more like a computer terminal, with a monitor and
even a mouse for customers to use to get the games set up. Nothing is
inserted into the terminal; nothing is returned from the terminal, thus
ducking under the state law outlawing and defining slot machines.
The place has a weird feel of an Internet café trapped inside a casino.
There's a cashier's cage and a restaurant/bar. There is a VIP room that
is empty. There is even the familiar thick casino carpeting with a hideous

Southern Star has a weird feel of an
Internet café trapped inside a
casino. There's a cashier's cage and
a restaurant/bar. There is a VIP
room that is empty. There is even
the familiar thick casino carpeting
with a hideous pattern. (File photo)

But most importantly, there are live games to play and a steady stream
of customers, even at 3 p.m. on a Wednesday, to play them. To do so,
the customers visit the cashier's cage and pay for a pin number. The pin
number starts the games, which are played on touch-screen monitors. To
collect any winnings, players must go back to the cashier's cage at the
end of their time playing, say "bingo" to the cashier and collect.

There is a paper sign posted beside the cashier's cage informing
customers that no winnings can be returned unless the player says
"bingo" first. This is an attempt to address another often-cited argument
by the AG's office: Players in traditional bingo games have to yell "bingo" in order to win.
It's all one more step in a seemingly never-ending dance around the law – a dance participated in by both
sides of this gambling fight.
"We've felt like these machines are legal, because they're like the ones in Greenetrack," said Ester
Jackson, executive director of the charity operation White Hall Enrichment Advancement Team
(W.H.E.A.T.) that controls Southern Star. "We've never received anything from (the AG's office) saying
the machines are illegal. Hopefully, if they have a problem with what we're doing, they'll send us
something to let us know before coming in here and trying to shut us down."
The W.H.E.A.T. board's argument is similar to an argument presented by attorneys for VictoryLand to
Montgomery Judge William Shashy a few weeks ago. Essentially, they argue, the AG's office can't pick
and choose which facilities to raid if it is contending that all electronic bingo is illegal. Yet, that's what it is
doing by allowing casinos such Greenetrack and Country Crossing to continue operating.


During that trial, VictoryLand attorneys showed Shashy a list with the number of days that Greenetrack,
Country Crossing and other casinos have operated in the state over the last four years as VictoryLand's
casino sat empty. The argument appeared to catch Shashy's attention and he told the attorneys for the
state that he "just doesn't get" why the casinos aren't being closed down if they're illegal.
Whether that argument will hold water for long isn't clear. But there is at least some sign that the state is
softening its stance on electronic bingo in the short term, as it awaits Shashy's ruling, and a sure-to-come
Alabama Supreme Court ruling on the matter. There's also an indication of a possible long-term softening
on the state's approach to dealing with the Poarch
Creek operations.
Gov. Robert Bentley, who has never seemed to carry
the disdain for gambling that Riley did, has said the
state might explore a possible compact with the Poarch
Creeks at a future time. The compact would allow the
Creeks to expand their operation, likely to include fullblown slot machines and/or table games, in exchange
for a percentage of tax dollars going to the state.
That extra cash flow to the state, projected to be well
into the tens of millions of dollars, depending on the tax
rate, would be a godsend for a state facing a ninefigure budget shortfall.
"It will probably be one of the recommendations I will
get (on the budget)," Bentley said in a recent interview.
"We will look at that. I'm not opposed to people voting
on the lottery, as long as it's done right.
"I've never been pro-gambling. I think it's a poor way to
fund government, and I think it actually hurts people,
but if someone earns their money and wants to play the
lottery – it is their money. That's the libertarian streak in
me, you know, you can do with your money whatever
you want to do. You earned it."

Gov. Robert Bentley says the state might explore a
possible compact with the Poarch Creek Indians.
(File photo)

Bentley said he didn't believe entering a compact with the Poarch Creeks would result in a spread of
gambling throughout the state. In fact, he said it could limit it, since ensuring the Indians faced little
competition would likely be part of any compact.
That's a position that McGregor, Nat Winn and others disagree with – not just in theory but also in
implementation. They don't feel it would be fair to have a compact that cuts businesses, such as
VictoryLand and Greenetrack, which have paid state taxes for years. Also, they don't think it could ever
be passed through the Legislature.
"I just don't think doing that is something the people of this state would ever stand for," McGregor said.
"How could you look at that and say that's fair, knowing what's happened all along? Because you need
the money now? I can't see how that would pass."
With or without a compact, the Poarch Creeks are charging forward. In October, they announced plans to
spend $65 million to expand the facility in Montgomery. Once completed, it will feature a new five-story
hotel, several new restaurants and a remodeled interior.


That expansion comes on the heels of the $246 million in upgrades to the Wetumpka location completed
earlier this year. Where there were once modulars with cigarette smoke billowing from the open doors,
there is now a beautiful, 20-story hotel and casino with nice
restaurants and a 16,000-gallon shark tank.
Robbie McGhee, the tribe's treasurer, said the Creeks have
always been open to a compact with the state. They're not
pressing for one, because business is good and the federal
government has all but ensured their continued operation of
electronic bingo machines. But McGhee said he's spoken to
a number of elected officials over the years about a compact.
"We don't actively seek (a compact) anymore," McGhee
said. "We did with Bentley what we've done with every
governor – we reached out and said the ball's in your court.
We let it go with that. But in reality, a compact gets us Class
III gaming and that's not necessarily the money maker
people think it is, because with it comes a number of other
McGhee also acknowledged that a compact would end
frivolous lawsuits his tribe has been forced to deal with, but
it's still not an issue that's worth chasing. Not with millions of
untaxed dollars already flowing into Poarch Creek coffers.
McGhee said he doesn't understand the resistance to the
tribe's success, nor the state's refusal to embrace and
promote the tribe.

“We did with Bentley what we've done with
every governor – we reached out and said the
ball's in your court. We let it go with that. But in
reality, a compact gets us Class III gaming and
that's not necessarily the money maker people
think it is, because with it comes a number of
other expenses."
Robbie McGhee, Poarch Creek tribe treasurer

"We're here and we're not going anywhere," he said. "There
are so many benefits and so many ways we could help this
state. Why not take advantage of all of that and figure out a way to make things better all over for

It's virtually the same question many have asked about gambling in general. With the advent of offshore
websites on the Internet and various other means, gambling has never been more prevalent inside
Alabama. Factor in the casinos in Mississippi and Louisiana and lotteries in Georgia, Florida and
Tennessee, and more Alabamians than ever are gambling.
So, with gambling already prevalent in the state, why not let the people of Alabama vote, and if gambling
in some areas is approved, establish a system to tax and regulate it?
It's a question Alabama lawmakers have been unable – and at times unwilling – to answer for the better
part of the last half-century.