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Riley, attorney general push for anti-gambling bill

By Phillip Rawls
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — A plan by the Republican governor and attorney general to wipe out electronic bingo games and Birmingham's new sweepstakes games is drawing criticism from members of both political parties, with one Democratic senator questioning if it's an attempt to protect Mississippi casinos from competition.

"Maybe we need to have some hearings on it," Senate President Pro Tem Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe, said.

At a news conference Tuesday, Gov. Bob Riley and Attorney General Troy King said they will try to curb gambling by asking the Legislature to ban electronic bingo machines and sweepstakes games operated by gambling businesses.

"We are asking the Legislature to close the loopholes, end the shams and stop illegal gambling in Alabama once and for all," Riley said.

Their announcement brought criticism from Riley's Republican primary opponent for governor. Former Chief Justice Roy Moore said Riley had done nothing prior to this to stop gambling. "This is nothing but politics," Moore said.

Moore said he wrote a Supreme Court advisory opinion, signed by three of the other eight justices in 2001, that made it clear some of the gambling now operated in Alabama is unconstitutional. He said passing new legislation is unnecessary to curb gambling.

"We need only to enforce the law," he said.

The governor and attorney general are proposing a constitutional amendment that would ban electronic bingo machines now found at the dog tracks in Macon and Greene counties and at the White Hall bingo hall in Lowndes County, and prohibit a gambling business from operating a sweepstakes like the one at the Birmingham dog track. It would also clarify Alabama's gambling laws by prohibiting games where the outcome is determined in a material degree by chance.

Riley said the proposed constitutional amendment would still allow traditional paper bingo and dog track operations. To take effect, it would have to be approved by the Legislature and in a statewide referendum.

King and Riley said they also will push legislation to increase the financial penalties for illegal gambling. Current penalties are so low that they don't pose an adequate deterrent, King said.

Riley and King decided to propose the legislation after the expanding electronic bingo operations in Macon, Greene and Lowndes counties and a judge's recent ruling that the new sweepstakes machines at the Birmingham dog track are allowed because of a loophole in Alabama's gambling laws.

Milton McGregor, who operates the dog tracks in Birmingham and Macon County, said he has been saying since 1999 that some Mississippi casinos were funding the fight against gambling in Alabama, and congressional hearings have verified that. McGregor said he still believes that's the case.

"If Riley's proposal were to pass, they'd have no competition in Alabama because we'd be out of business," he said.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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