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Lawyers say dog track case affects other gambling halls

By Phillip Rawls
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY - An Alabama Supreme Court ruling against the video sweepstakes games at the Birmingham dog track likely will force the closure of many smaller gambling halls that have copied the dog track's success, state's attorneys said Monday.

"For anybody in violation of this latest decision of the Supreme Court, my advice is to make plans to get out of the business or become compliant with the law," Attorney General Troy King said in an interview Monday.

On Friday, the Alabama Supreme Court reversed a lower court ruling that had found the sweepstakes games legal.

In an 8-0 decision, the court said the dog track's Mega-Sweeps machines are illegal slot machines.

The ruling was a victory for Jefferson County District Attorney David Barber, who had asked the court to consider the legality of the computer-operated machines.

Now, dog track owner Milton McGregor has 14 days to ask the Supreme Court to reconsider its decision.

At the Birmingham Race Course on Monday, McGregor said he will seek reconsideration of the decision, arguing that it was based on a faulty reading of the law.

"It's clearly a political decision and not a legal decision," he said.

McGregor said that if he can't get the Supreme Court to reconsider, he will look for an issue that would allow him to take the case into federal court. Having to shut down the games would cost 250 jobs, he said.

Randy Hillman, executive director of the Alabama District Attorney's Association, said McGregor's rehearing request is a long shot.

"The odds of them reconsidering an 8-0 decision and changing their minds is not good. We expect the decision to stand and we expect that after the 14 days runs, we will start closing down these operations," Hillman said.

John Giles, president of Christian Action Alabama, said McGregor is trying to draw out the case and keep operating "a very lucrative illegal enterprise" as long as he can.

The Supreme Court's ruling addressed only the games at the Birmingham dog track, but King and Hillman said the impact will be felt by the smaller operations across the state.

Giles sent notices to his members across the state on Monday, encouraging them to call their local district attorney to point out sweepstakes businesses in their areas and ask to have them closed.

McGregor installed the sweepstakes games at the Birmingham dog track in 2005 as a way to lure back gamblers attracted to casinos in Mississippi and electronic bingo games in some central and south Alabama counties.

People play the game by buying Internet time on a machine, called a reader, which automatically enters them into a sweepstakes and the machine then tells them if they won or not.

On Jan. 31, 2006, Jefferson County Circuit Judge Scott Vowell ruled that a loophole in state law allowed the machines. Soon, small storefront operations began popping up across the state.

Neither King nor Hillman would venture a guess on how many there are. But King, fresh off a successful campaign for a full term, said, "As I travel around the state, they are everywhere."

Even if they close their doors, King said he doesn't expect illegal gambling to disappear from the state because the fines are so low - $2,000 per machine.

He cited testimony in one gambling prosecution in Troy, where an expert testified each adult arcade machine was making $700 per day. King said an illegal gambling operation can start turning a profit and save enough to pay any fines within a few days of operation.

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

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