Recently, several churches have been the scene of illegal gambling enterprises throughout the South. In Texas last month, for example, police officers seized dozens of machines from a room inside a church building after an electrical fire broke out. A church in Georgia that rented a room to a business was also the scene of a recent gambling bust. The latest bust took place in a small church and antique store in Decatur, Alabama, one of the most restrictive anti-gambling states in the United States.
Alabama and Gambling
While Alabama used to rival Mississippi in terms of riverboat gambling, the state has since reversed course. Alabama law prohibits nearly all forms of gambling, and the laws get even stricter on Sundays. The laws in Alabama that prohibit gambling have bent a bit over time to allow horse and dog racing, but the state draws the line at nearly every other form of gambling. Charitable bingo is allowed on a county-by-county basis, with many counties choosing not to allow it at all. There is also no lottery in the state.
Over the years, there have been nearly annual battles to legalize one form of gambling or another, especially since Mississippi allows all forms of gambling, including sportsbooks. The progressives in the state have said that legalizing gambling will attract additional businesses and revenue to the state. The state, which had one of its largest cities declare bankruptcy less than a decade ago, could use the money. However, conservatives have consistently banned the practice of gambling in the state. In fact, the government took a pseudo-casino to court and won a years-long battle because it felt that the video lottery terminals that the company had were too much like gambling.
Indian Casinos in the State
While Alabama does not allow for casinos in the state, they have no control over what the federal government decides with regard to Indian casinos. A federal law in the late 1980s allowed federally recognized tribes to operated casinos. There are currently three Indian casinos in Alabama, all run by the Creek Indiana: Wind River Casinos in Atmore, Wetumpka, and Montgomery.
The Recent Bust
Decatur, Alabama is located in Northern Alabama along the banks of the Tennessee River. Decatur has relied on river traffic to fuel its manufacturing trade. The population of the small town is 50,000 strong, and is close to Huntsville. At one time, it was hoped that the city would develop into a space and technology center, but it was beaten out by Huntsville, which is the headquarters for NASA and other science and technology companies in the area.
Decatur police received several complaints that gambling was occurring at the site of an old seafood restaurant in the downtown area. Many buildings in downtown Decatur are abandoned, and while the outside of the buildings are beautiful, the insides would make good places for any operation that wanted to remain under the radar of police.
When police raided the building, which was being used as a church and antique store, they found a very sophisticated gambling operation. There were 17 machines in all being used at the time of the raid. There was also sophisticated surveillance equipment, with cameras and motion detectors. A bell system that had been installed was meant to send a signal to gamblers they needed to vacate the area. In all, two people were arrested, but police say additional charges may be coming. One of the people arrested was already out on bond regarding a similar illegal gambling enterprise in Mississippi. While this raid represents a victory for the state, it is clear that until Alabama legalizes gambling, illegal gambling will continue.
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