Alabama Attorney General seeks to close Center Stage

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Montgomery (WTVY)-- Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall Wednesday filed civil lawsuits in several Alabama counties seeking to shut down electronic bingo operations including Center Stage Alabama.

“It is the responsibility of the Attorney General to ensure that Alabama’s laws are enforced, including those laws that prohibit illegal gambling,” Marshall said. “Through multiple rulings in recent years, the Alabama Supreme Court has made it abundantly clear that electronic bingo and the use of slot machines are illegal in all Alabama counties. Therefore, we have taken action to hold accountable those who defy the laws of our state.”

Marshall’s actions seem to indicate a change of course in the enforcement of gambling laws. Before Governor Robert Bentley was forced from office amid scandal he issued an order laws should be enforced at the local level. Since then until today there had been no effort to close casinos.

Prior to Bentley’s order, several were raided by state agents and closed. Some 600 machines and $288,000 in cash were seized from Center Stage, near Dothan, in 2012.

Its predecessor, Country Crossing, was forced to close in 2010. The casino was linked to allegations of legislative vote buying that resulted in developer Ronnie Gilley pleading guilty to corruption charges. He served a federal prison sentence.

Center Stage attorney Ernie Hornsby, in a text message to WTVY, said he has not seen a copy of the lawsuit and isn’t sure why “this is suddenly an issue with (Marshall).”

Greenetrack, in West Alabama, is among others targeted. CEO Luther Winn, Jr. told the website, "While we have not had a chance to review the lawsuit, we will vigorously fight to protect the constitutional amendment that the voters of Greene County ratified which allows these games in Greene County," Winn said.

Also named in the lawsuits filed by Marshall are Victoryland in Macon County and operations in Lowndes and Morgan Counties.

Named in the lawsuit against Center Stage are its operator, Houston Economic Development Authority, and the Houston County Commission.

Commission Chairman Mark Culver said he doesn’t have sufficient information to comment now.

Not targeted by Marshall are three Wind Creek Casinos operated by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. They are protected by federal law.