A rural Alabama county hungry for economic development staved off a state raid on a big, new bingo and entertainment center it helped create, winning a round Wednesday in a gambling confrontation with Gov. Bob Riley
Houston County won a middle-of-the-night court order barring the raid even as agents from the governor’s antigambling task force were massing near Country Crossing, an $87 million bingo and country music complex near Dothan, in the state’s southeast corner.
Houston County Commissioner Mark Culver got the order from a judge’s home at 1:30 a.m. Wednesday and personally delivered it to the Governor’s Task Force on Illegal Gambling as it was assembling for a pre-dawn raid. He said he was trying to save 1,300 jobs in a county with 8.7 percent unemployment.
“We are going to do everything we can to protect the jobs of the people of Houston County and the Wiregrass,” Culver said.
The governor was in Pasadena, Calif., to watch the University of Alabama play the University of Texas in the football championship game, and did not have any immediate comment.
His press secretary, Todd Stacy, said the task force was not allowed any input before the judge issued the court order. He compared the events to the illegal gambling that operated in Phenix City, Ala., in the 1950s under the protection of some public officials.
“The obstruction of law enforcement that took place in Houston County this morning should be a wake-up call to the people of this state about the power of organized gambling and casino bosses,” Stacy said.
Country Crossing opened last month with 1,700 electronic bingo machines, celebrity-themed restaurants and other attractions that carry the names of country music stars that developer Ronnie Gilley involved in the project. They include George Jones, Lorrie Morgan and Randy Owen, lead singer for the band Alabama.
Alabama’s Republican governor has challenged the legality of Country Crossing and similar developments, claiming their electronic bingo machines are really illegal slot machines. He maintains that Alabama laws allowing bingo in some counties, such as Houston County, are designed for traditional paper games played for charity.