MONTGOMERY, Ala. - The state attorney general's used a century-old gambling case to get a rare, but not unprecedented, search warrant to raid VictoryLand casino in Shorter.
Attorney General Luther Strange's office used state troopers to raid the Macon County casino and seize 1,000 gambling machines on Tuesday. The raid was conducted with a search warrant that the Alabama Supreme Court directed Macon County Circuit Judge Tom Young to issue after he first refused.
The Supreme Court unsealed records about the search warrant after the raid was completed. Those records show prosecutors provided Young with a video of the machines shot by undercover officers and asked for a search warrant to conduct a raid. Young refused. He later wrote in court records that he felt information from the attorney general's office was inadequate because the Macon County sheriff had declared the same machines to be legal.
The attorney general's office appealed to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, which sided with Young. The attorney general's office then appealed to the Alabama Supreme Court and won.
The attorney general pointed to an 1899 case, where a justice of the peace refused to issue an arrest warrant in a book-making case because he believed the criminal law being used was unconstitutional and void. The Supreme Court ordered the justice of the peace could be compelled to issue the warrant.
John C. Neiman Jr., solicitor general in the attorney general's office, told al.com that the Supreme Court decided in that case that a judge can't deny a warrant based on an incorrect view of the law.
"It's no doubt unusual for this sort of thing to happen, but it did in this case. These machines are clearly illegal, and that's why we were entitled to seek review in the Supreme Court," he said.
The Supreme Court directed Young on Feb. 15 to issue the warrant and said he had been wrong to refuse it.
Young issued the warrant Feb. 16, but added a handwritten note that said he signed it with the "greatest of judicial reluctance." The judge wrote that he still believed the attorney general's office did not provide sufficient probable cause.
The seized machines have a video screen with reels like slot machines and a small bingo card. The casino promoted them as legal electronic bingo and said the slot machine-type graphics were just for show. Sheriff David Warren agreed when he inspected them in December prior to the casino's reopening.
The attorney general's office argued in court papers that they did not meet standards for bingo set by the Alabama Supreme Court in a 2009 case from Lowndes County. Those standards include mirroring the traditional game of bingo and involving active player participation, including the player marking a bingo card and announcing a win.
The casino reopened in December after closing in 2010 under pressure from then-Gov. Bob Riley's gambling task force. When Gov. Robert Bentley replaced Riley in 2011, he turned over the task force's work to the attorney general.