Debate Stirs in Ala. Over Best Way to Reduce Gambling

Alabama Attorney General Troy King and the head of Christian Coalition of Alabama have traded criticism on how to best reduce gambling in the state.

Responding to a critical letter issued by Coalition President John Giles, King said Wednesday that he was not relenting in enforcing the laws but would not “act unprofessionally.”

He called on Giles to “roll up your sleeves” and work with him to go to the Legislature and enact change.

According to the Associated Press, Giles stated in the letter written to King last Friday that "I have ignored my passionate feelings about this situation because of our friendship, but as president of the CCA I must be honest, I am very disappointed with the lack of tenacity and leadership that has been shown in bringing a halt to a cancerous plague of gambling expansion in our state."

King has noted that the current laws allowing certain types of gambling were passed long before he became attorney general and legislative action was needed to change them. Giles, however, has said that King has not acted in a tough enough manner to enforce laws to shut down illegal operations.

The Coalition president said instead of filing a lawsuit against a bingo hall 20 miles west of Montgomery and allowing it to remain open during litigation, King should have shut it down, putting the burden on the accused to prevent the action.

"In my view this operation should have been immediately raided, the doors closed, the machines impounded, criminal penalties enforced and the defendants forced to seek their own injunction to reopen," Giles wrote.

King, however, said he would not resort to rash actions in his letter responding to Giles.

"I refuse to act unprofessionally, irresponsibly ... just because I favor the short term results that might follow,” he said.

The suit filed by King against the hall states it is operating under a state constitutional amendment that was not properly approved by voters before he became attorney general in 2004. King noted that it had been his office that brought up the issue of the amendment’s legality. King said it was up to the courts to decide the matter.

On Wednesday, Giles told AP that he and King would "just have to come to terms that we profoundly disagree on the strategic approach to stopping illegal gambling in Alabama."

Another criticism by Giles referred to the investigation of sweepstakes at a Birmingham Race Course by another government office. He said King had distanced himself from the raid at the track, with his staff not taking part.

King said he had been unaware of the raid but said Alabama law allows sweepstakes.

He added that the most effective way to reduce gambling was to enact stiffer fines so that there is less profit in the business. For example, he said that courts can impose a $2,000 fine per machine for an illegal gambling conviction. Each machine gathers more than $700 per day, he said.

Giles told The Christian Post that that’s “something we should look at” but that it was also necessary to repeal legislation that had been fraudulently passed, echoing King’s comments in the letter.

Giles said the CCA would not only continue to work with the legislature, but also shift its focus to working with local sheriffs and county officials to investigate illegal operations where they existed.