Center Stage, Houston County attorneys want effort to close bingo operation ceased

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Dothan (WTVY)-- The operator of Center Stage Alabama and the Houston County Commission want a lawsuit seeking to close the bingo operation near Dothan dismissed. Both are defendants.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall filed suit October 4 seeking to close Center Stage and several other non-tribal casinos in the state. He calls them a nuisance operating in violation of Alabama law.

“The state statute which declared gaming places a common nuisance has been repealed and the Legislature has not replaced it,” argues Ashton Ott, attorney for the Houston County Economic Development Authority. HEDA operates Center Stage.

In the response filed Monday to his lawsuit Ott also arugues if if gaming conducted at Center Stage is a public nuisance, then Marshall must enjoin all persons creating the nuisance (meaning the Poarch Creek Indians and possibly other groups or entities), otherwise complete relief cannot be provided.

“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,” Marshall alleges.

Center Stage has both electronic machines and traditional paper bingo though winners awarded prizes must win at the paper version.
The Indian tribe operates three Wind Creek casinos with electronic bingo machines that resemble slots but no paper version. The tribe is protected by federal law.

The Houston County Commission, in its response to the lawsuit, claims it has no control over the operation of Center Stage and should be dismissed as a defendant. The county commission, in 2009, authorized the operation of HEDA but is not involved in the Authority’s day to day operation.

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 that laws should be enforced at the local level. Since then, and until Marshall filed suit, there had been no effort to close casinos.

Marshall is also requesting a temporary restraining order that would close Center Stage until a trial is held, likely sometime in 2018.

Houston County Circuit Judge Kevin Moulton has not set a hearing on the request though a status conference is set for Wednesday when attorneys for both sides will discuss the matter.