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Judge rules against bingo amendment

WHITE HALL (AP) — A judge tossed out a state constitutional amendment for bingo operations in White Hall on Thursday, but it won't close the electronic bingo hall that has turned the small town into a well-known spot on U.S. 80.

Lowndes County Circuit Judge Edward McFerrin agreed with Attorney General Troy King that a 2002 constitutional amendment for White Hall bingo was passed improperly, but the bingo hall can continue operating under an earlier constitutional amendment.

"It in no way affects the operation of the bingo as it now goes on," said Joe Espy, attorney for Freedom Trail Ventures.

White Hall was once just a small town of about 1,010 people along U.S. 80 about 20 miles west of Montgomery. But now the bingo hall and a museum honoring the Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights march attract many visitors.

Bingo for charity

Alabama voters statewide approved a constitutional amendment in 2000 that allowed charity-operated bingo in White Hall. Two years later, voters in Lowndes County approved a second constitutional amendment that allowed a company to operate the bingo for the charity.

The White Hall Gaming Center opened, with Freedom Trail Ventures handling the operations. King filed suit in 2004, saying the second constitutional amendment should have been voted on statewide, not just in Lowndes County.

State law requires any proposed constitutional amendment that receives a negative vote in the Legislature to be voted on statewide, and the second constitutional amendment had one negative vote in the Senate, King argued.

"When I brought this action, I said that this amendment had been illegally ratified. Today's decision striking it from the law books of Alabama is the right one," King said.

The judge's ruling won't impact the operation of the bingo hall because on Jan. 1, 2006, Freedom Trail Ventures turned over operation to a charity.

The charity, Cornerstone Community Outreach, leases the bingo equipment from Freedom Trail Ventures, Espy said.

The judge said the ruling is prospective only because state officials who determine whether a proposed constitutional amendment is voted on in one county or statewide treated the second constitutional amendment as if it had been passed properly. King was the first official to raise questions about its passage.

The judge and the attorney general said all parties agree the first constitutional amendment, which is now being used for the bingo hall's operation, was properly passed by the Legislature and adopted by Alabama voters.

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

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