At the end of several days of argument and testimony concerning the legality of the warrant issued to seize bingo machines at Greenetrack on June 1, 2011, Judge Houston Brown advised the attorneys on both sides that he did not like closing arguments.
Instead, Judge Brown gave each side two weeks to prepare briefs summarizing their case, either for or against. At that time, the briefs would be submitted to him and he would issue his opinion as quickly as possible.
The state’s case seemed to hinge around their contention that the bingo machines were not legal because they were electronic and constituted gambling because the player had no input into the eventual outcome of the game.
This was countered by Greenetrack attorneys who pointed out that the player could “daub” numbers as the balls were shown.
The defense pointed out that there was a bingo card or cards on each machine that was seized on June 1 and that the information provided by the state to obtain the warrant was faulty.
Assistant Attorney General Sonny Reagan said there were 18 constitutional amendments allowing charity bingo. “Only two of these authorize electronic bingo,” he said. “One of those is Greene County.”
For several hours the attorneys argued back and forth whether or not the machines seized at Greenetrack on June 1 were slot machines.
The state insisted that these machines did not meet the six criteria set up by the Alabama Supreme Court for electronic bingo.
On the stand Lt. Henry Reese said he sent undercover agents into Greenetrack on 3/23/11. He testified that a video was made of the machines.”In your affidavit referencing to April 21, you say the machines are different in appearance but operate the same. You also say that none played the game commonly known as bingo.”
Reese said he had played paper bingo at the VFW and AmVets in Walker County, but not at Greenetrack because it was not offered.
Under cross examination, Reese admitted that each of the machines had a bingo card displayed. He also admitted that he had not done any research on whether or not the game could simply be played by pushing a button.
He was asked by the judge if he had ever looked to see if federal bingo (legalized bingo for Native Americans) is similar to Greene County bingo.
Greenetrack’s attorney John Bolton also questioned who made the decision to seize personal items under the warrant. “They took Mr. Winn’s personal checkbook and a Political Action Committee Check book,” said Bolton
Judge Brown replied that only if those items were the fruit of illegal gambling could they legally be seized. If not, this court is of the opinion that they should be returned forthwith.”
Reagan claimed that the people of Greene County did not know they were voting for electronic bingo in the 2003 election which legalized bingo.
This was quickly answered by Bolton, who offered into evidence six copies of the Greene County Democrat, a newspaper of general circulation in the county, which contained news stories of the upcoming bingo election of 2003 and its success. Each story made it clear that electronic bingo was to be present if the Constitutional Amendment was passed.
Although the state objected, Judge Brown said that it was appropriate to “obtain some history and publicness admitted into evidence.”
Another fact Bolton brought out was that Greenetrack had obtained a liquor license. He reminded Reese that the ABC Board prohibits licensing where slot machines are present.
At this point, Judge Brown adjourned for the day and asked everyone involved to return at 9 a.m. Thursday.
When court resumed, the state began cross examination of Reese, who said that he had gone to Greenetrack on 5/30/11 with an undercover team to verify what had been said. Reese said he purchased $20 in credit from a cashier and was given a PIN number.
He continued explaining how he entered the PIN number in a machine, hit a button and the screen came up.
He described the machine as a cabinet model machine about four feet tall with three separate parts.
Reese claimed that although balls were drawn it was too fast for the human eye to follow.
“I did have questions about issuing that warrant. I want to be open and fair to everyone in this procedure.”
Similar questioning went on, videos of bingo machines were shown and how the player actually played the machine was discussed until the judge asked Reese, “Have you ever encountered an electronic bingo machine you did not see as a slot machine?”
“No, I did not,” replied Reese.
The final witness was the state’s expert, Desmond L. Ladner, who is self employed as a consultant specializing in gaming bills.
Ladner had previously claimed to have a masters degree in engineering and 40 hours of training in Los Vegas in gaming regulations. Prior to becoming self employed he worked for the Mississippi Gaming Commission, from which he was terminated.
Ladner’s testimony about the machines was much the same as Reese’s. He showed a video of a bingo machine to the court which did not show the bingo card.
When the defense asked him if he was a registered engineer in Mississippi, he replied that he was not nor was he registered in any other state.
Ladner said he disagreed with the Federal government on their gambling regulations for Native Americans; that he thought bingo could be played on electronic marking machines and that he was involuntarily terminated by the Mississippi Gaming Commission.
He also admitted that although he had told Judge Brown he visited Greenetrack on May 30 (the date on the search warrant), he actually had not.
Ladner continued testimony, basically backing up what had been said by Reese and adding that he could play bingo without looking at the machine at all and that all the machines at Greenetrack were illegal gambling devices.
After Ladner had completed his testimony, both the state and the defense rested their cases.
Brown said he would have the lawyers’ briefs read and make his decision as quickly as possible.
“The people of Greene County need to know,” he said.
Greenetrack CEO Luther “Nat” Winn made this comment after the hearing was over. “Almost 75 years ago, the Alabama Supreme Court observed: “Constitutions are not primarily designed to protect majorities who are usually able to protect themselves, but to preserve and protect the rights of individuals and minorities against the arbitrary actions of those in authority. The Constitution gave the citizens of Greene County the right to vote – on their judges, their sheriff, their district attorney, and electronic bingo. At the end of the day, this case is not about bingo, it is about the willingness of those in authority to violate the fundamental rights of the citizens of Greene County.”
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