After seven days of deliberations, jurors found the six defendants in the Alabama Bingo corruption trial not guilty. The six defendants included VictoryLand owner Milton McGregor, former state Sens. Larry Means and Jim Preuitt, former Country Crossing casino spokesman Jay Walker, Sen. Harri Anne Smith, and lobbyist Tom Coker. The six were on trial for offering and accepting bribes in relation to a bill that would have sheltered bingo casinos from being closed by the state.
The corruption trial follows former Governor Bob Riley’s war on bingo machines in the state of Alabama. Riley viewed them as illegal slot machines and sought to close them down across the state. A task force was formed with just that purpose. Milton McGregor owned the largest bingo casino in the state near Montgomery with over 6,000 machines. In its last full year of operation the casino pulled in $40 million.
Corruption has been prevalent in the state of Alabama for the past decade. Former Governor Don Siegelman was convicted of bribery charges in 2006. Jefferson County recently had to go bankrupt due to the corrupt business practices of its leaders. The bingo trial is just the latest in a long line of issues for the state.
At the heart of this latest corruption trial is Alabama’s long debate over gambling. Don Siegelman tried to pass an education lottery but it was defeated by voters. All of the surrounding states have lotteries. Proponents have long argued that Alabamians are simply taking their money to our neighbor states when it could be spent here.
Bingo operators have been trying to keep their slot machine like bingo machines legal but have failed thus far. The bingo machines have proven both popular and profitable. Opponents say they are nothing more than slot machines and thus illegal under Alabama law.
The gambling argument boils down to economics vs morals. There is no doubt that either allowing bingo machines or legalizing gambling outright would be an economic boost to the state. Gambling is a big attraction. The downside is the problems that gambling can cause which includes addiction, and crime. In a way gambling is a bit like drugs. There are some who can use it responsibly, and there are some that can not. Alabama is a very religious state, and a lot of religions do not look upon gambling favorably.
Though this battle is over, the war will go on. The gambling issue is not going away anytime soon. As long as there is money to be made there will be people trying to do it. The corruption issue isn’t going anywhere either. As long as we have people with money and politicians, there will be corruption.