Bentley ends gaming task force

Published 6:11 pm Tuesday, January 18, 2011

MONTGOMERY (AP) — Gov. Robert Bentley used his first full day in office Tuesday to keep a campaign promise to terminate former Gov. Bob Riley’s gambling task force but said no one should view the move as an signal for electronic bingo casinos to reopen.

Bentley’s first executive order ended the 2-year-old task force and turned over its cases to the new attorney general, Republican Luther Strange.

Asked if it was a signal casinos could reopen, the Republican governor said: “On my part it is not a signal. On the attorney general’s part, it is not a signal.”

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Riley’s Task Force on Illegal Gambling used police raids and court decisions to close electronic bingo casinos in Dothan, White Hall, Shorter, Eutaw and other towns. Riley created the task force in December 2008 because he and former Attorney General Troy King disagreed over the legality of the machines.

Bentley said he and Strange are working together and that means there is no need for the task force.

“He will enforce the law related to gaming in the state of Alabama,” Bentley said.

Strange issued a statement later saying he will enforce Alabama’s gambling laws as written, and the legal cases against casinos will continue without interruption.

Despite the statements by the governor and attorney general, a gambling proponent, former state Rep. Johnny Ford of Tuskegee, said Bentley’s actions give “a sense of hope” to people who want to restore thousands of jobs at closed gambling casinos.

Ford sponsored the constitutional amendment that allowed bingo at VictoryLand in Shorter, but Riley’s task force maintained the electronic games were illegal slots.

VictoryLand’s owner, Milton McGregor, and the developer of the closed Country Crossing casino in Dothan, Ronnie Gilley, are awaiting trial April 4 on charges accusing them of trying to bribe legislators to vote for a pro-gambling bill that would have allowed the casinos to reopen. They have pleaded not guilty, but two former lobbyists for Country Crossing have pleaded guilty.

In Bentley’s first news conference of his administration, he signed a second executive order directing all state agencies to look for ways to create jobs in the private sector. They are supposed to report their plans to him in four months. Bentley said that’s in keeping with his campaign promise to focus on job creation and lower Alabama’s 9 percent unemployment rate.

On other issues, Bentley said he and his wife plan to move into the Governor’s Mansion in a few days. He said they chose the mansion over two other large homes maintained by the state government in Montgomery, and they will continue the state tradition of having public tours of the Governor’s Mansion because “the mansion belongs to the people.”

He said he would like to restore the main floor of the two-story mansion to how it looked when the home was built around 1907, but he would do it with private donations rather than tax dollars.

Bentley said he plans to spend one day a week getting out of Montgomery to meet the public, and his goal is to visit each of Alabama’s 67 counties within a year.

He said revenue for the state education and General Fund budgets is not coming in like state officials had hoped, but the General Fund budget for non-education agencies is in worse shape than the education budget. He said the likelihood of him having to order across-the-board cuts is spending is more likely in the General Fund budget than the education budget, but it’s too early to say how much.