Jefferson County Commissioners Question Legality of Bingo

Commission President Jimmie Stephens, (Source: Solomon Crenshaw Jr.)

Bingo was the subject of a lengthy discussion this morning as members of the Jefferson County Commission met for their committee meeting.

Commissioner Lashunda Scales sought clarity on the county’s stance on bingo in general and electronic bingo machines that are being licensed for operation by a number of Jefferson County municipalities.

County attorney Theo Lawson cited state constitutional amendment 386, which authorizes bingo in Jefferson County subject to rules established by either the county or the governing body of a municipality.

“Municipalities within Jefferson County have the authority to promulgate rules regarding bingo,” Lawson said. “Anything in unincorporated Jefferson County, those rules would be promulgated by the Jefferson County Commission.”

Commission President Jimmie Stephens said there has been confusion about what is truly legal regarding bingo.

“It’s really very clear,” he said. “Bingo is a game played on paper against others in a room. There’s no provision in the state acts, state law that allow for electronic gaming, or electronic bingo.”

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall made his stand on electronic gaming very clear as he commended authorities in Walker County for enforcing the state’s gambling law by closing newly established electronic bingo halls.

“Alabama law is crystal clear,” Marshall said. “Electronic bingo and coin slot machines are illegal. No matter what the operators of these unlawful enterprises claim, the Alabama Supreme Court has definitively and repeatedly ruled that electronic bingo and coin slot machines are illegal gaming devices. There is no debate, there is no ambiguity. As the Supreme Court stated on March 31, 2016, all that is left to do is to enforce the law.”

Today’s discussion during commission committee included reports that Sheriff Mark Pettway says that he considers policing bingo machines a low priority. Several media outlets, including, reported a sheriff’s department spokesman categorizing electronic bingo as a misdemeanor.

Captain David Agee told WBRC that Pettway is putting a priority on drugs and violent crimes.

Stephens said Pettway’s stance is a shift in the past pattern of law enforcement in Jefferson County.

“We need to enforce the laws as they exist,” he said. “If we choose not to enforce a law at all, that tells the criminal element that we’re wide open for it. If no one’s going to enforce it, let’s go to Jefferson County and open up.”

Licenses to operate bingo halls are being purchased in a number of cities in Jefferson County. Three licenses have been purchased to operate bingo halls in Graysville.

Among those who had attempted to open bingo halls is Bruce Pettway, brother of the sheriff. But he is “out of the bingo business,” according to Graysville Mayor Clark Davis.

“He come got his money back today,” Davis told BirminghamWatch. “He could not get the building. He wrote a check for his license for one spot only and that spot has not been available so he’s out of the bingo business.”

 Road Work

In another matter, deputy county manager Cal Markert announced that some roads in Fairfield and Lipscomb will get some much needed patching because of infrastructure grants from Commissioners Sheila Tyson and Scales.

“Commissioner Tyson did one for Lipscomb and it was $60,000,” Markert said. “The city’s paying a $12,000 match. Commissioner Scales is doing Fairfield and it was closer to $50,000.”

Like Lipscomb, Fairfield is providing a 20 percent match on the grant funds.

Work in Lipscomb will include Avenue K, which is a through road that the county maintains.

“We already scheduled to pave it last year based on its rating,” Markert said. “We’ll probably get them all at the same time.”