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Acquitted owner of VictoryLand casino to reopen business

March 12, 2012 10:50 AM by Staff & Wire Reports

The acquitted owner of VictoryLand casino in Shorter, Ala. said Thursday he will reopen the business in a few months with electronic bingo machines like he had before and try to win back customers who switched to Indian casinos that never closed.

"Now I’m focused on getting 3,000 people back to work and charities and governmental agencies receiving revenue, as they should have been all the time," Milton McGregor told The Associated Press.

McGregor, 72, held the interview one day after a federal jury acquitted him and five others of charges accusing them of buying and selling votes for legislation designed to protect electronic bingo machines from a crackdown by former Gov. Bob Riley’s gambling task force in 2010.

When asked about the case Thursday, Riley said he had said nothing about it since the federal investigation of vote buying was announced two years ago and he didn’t plan to start now. As for McGregor’s reopening plans, he said, "It’s up to the attorney general and governor."

When Gov. Robert Bentley replaced Riley a year ago, he closed the task force and turned over its responsibilities to the attorney general. McGregor and his lawyer, Joe Espy, said they have had no discussions with the attorney general regarding reopening.

Attorney General Luther Strange said rulings by the Alabama Supreme Court and other courts have made it clear "only the traditional game of bingo is authorized in Alabama and slot machines cannot be used to play bingo."

The most recent decision occurred last month when Jefferson County Circuit Scott Vowell ruled against machines seized from gambling halls in the Birmingham area. He said bingo requires competition against other players. The seized machines offered players "no way of even knowing which if any other players they are playing against," the judge said.

Strange said his office will enforce the laws against illegal gambling in every county.

"Those currently engaged in illegal gambling activities or contemplating opening an illegal gambling facility under the guise of so-called ‘electronic bingo’ should be aware that this office will continue to enforce the law, period," he warned.

McGregor once operated the nation’s largest electronic bingo casino with 6,400 machines located 15 miles east of Montgomery. He closed the operation in August. 2010 to prevent a raid by Riley’s task force, which contended the games were illegal slot machines rather than electronic versions of paper bingo.

McGregor also closed his luxury hotel and restaurants and ended live dog racing. VictoryLand has limped along with simulcast dog and horse races, but it hasn’t generated enough money to pay the property taxes on the $200 million complex.

McGregor said Thursday he doesn’t have a specific opening date in mind, but he plans to reopen everything at VictoryLand, and add a seafood restaurant. To do that, he said he must get current on his taxes, hire staff, line up machines, and get kennel operators back at the dog track.

"It will take a few months to accomplish that," he said.

When he reopens, McGregor estimated he will have 50 percent to 60 percent of the machines he had when he closed.

McGregor also a dog track in Birmingham. The pro-gambling legislation he was pushing in 2010 could have allowed him to add a casino at his Birmingham track if it had been successful. McGregor said Thursday he has no plans to push legislation allowing electronic bingo in Birmingham.

Testimony in the gambling corruption trial showed McGregor never got paid back for about $14 million he provided to Ronnie Gilley, developer of Country Crossing casino in Dothan and one of four people who pleaded guilty in the case. Despite the loss, McGregor said he has the resources to reopen VictoryLand without bringing in new investors.

Country Crossing in Dothan and Greenetrack casino in Eutaw also closed during Riley’s crackdown. Country Crossing reopened in July with new operators and a new name, Center Stage. Greenetrack reopened March 2011, got raided by the state and then reopen again in August. A Greene County judge sided with Greenetrack over the raid, and the case is on appeal to the Alabama Supreme Court.

McGregor said he held off on reopening to focus on his criminal case, but Wednesday’s verdict allowed him to move forward.

The Poarch Creek Indians’ casinos in Montgomery, Atmore and Wetumpka never closed during the state’s crackdown because they are under federal supervision. Not only did they not shut down, they saw business grow as gamblers looked for alternatives to the closed casinos.

The annual Indian Gaming Industry Report, written by economist Alan Meister and published Tuesday by Casino City Press, said the three Indian casinos in Alabama saw their revenue grow by 61 percent in 2010, which was the highest of any state. The publication did not list the amount of revenue because of a confidentiality agreement with the tribe.

No 2011 figures are available yet, but the publication indicated revenue figures are likely to keep going up because the tribe expanded its Montgomery casino in 2011 and announced expansion plans for Wetumpka.

McGregor said his focus is to get back in business with machines like the Indian casinos and give them competition.

"We are entitled to the same thing the Native Americans have in Montgomery, Wetumpka and Atmore. The difference is we pay city, county and state taxes," he said.

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