Bingo is known to generate a lot of shouting and even some passion, but in Eutaw, Ala., it's stirred up quite a bit more as one small county takes on the governor over whether electronic bingo machines are legal.
The battle came to a head yesterday at the Greenetrack dog racing and electronic bingo facility, when Gov. Bob Riley's gambling task force arrived with a State Supreme Court ruling that heaped criticism on a local county judge and handed the authorities the task of shutting down Greenetrack's 800 bingo machines.
The raid resulted in the closing of Greenetrack as the State Supreme Court continues to work out the permanent seizure of the bingo machines, and the arrest of 16 people who police say tried to block them from seizing the machines. Now Greenetrack supporters say they are being unfairly targeted by Riley, in the last year of his second term as governor, and at least 400 people may be permanently jobless and the area left without it's only major source of income.
"It's been devastating, and it's going to be devastating for the county and the entire surrounding area," Toice Goodson, a teller at Greenetrack, told ABC News.
Goodson, a 33-year veteran employee at Greenetrack, was one of the 16 people arrested yesterday. Also arrested were State Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, and Luther Winn, CEO of Greenetrack.
Greenetrack is the largest employer in the county, and workers there and community members say the facility was more than just jobs, but also a major source of income for surrounding businesses as well as a fund raiser and provider of roughly 95 college scholarships a year.
"It provided scholarships, they had a lot of charities. Everyone was doing better as a result of Greenetrack. We were employing almost 500 people and that's not counting local stores, gas stations, all those places," Goodson said.
"People would also make money at the track, and they'd go to businesses and spend that money," he said.
The state, however, says this is not like the church-sponsored bingo games with callers shouting out I-22 or B-14, and that Greenetrack's 800 electronic bingo machines are little more than slot machines, illegal in Alabama.
"In Alabama slot machines are illegal -- casino operators trying to get around that saying these are bingo machines," Jeff Emerson, a spokesman for the governor, told ABC News.
"Bingo is legal, slot machines are illegal. These are slot machines," Emerson said.
According to Emerson, Riley does sympathize over the loss of jobs but the state must uphold the law.
"The governor understands the frustration, but these are illegal and we have to enforce the law," Emerson said.
The electronic machines have been operating at the Greenetrack since January 2004 but came under the governor's radar in February Emerson said. According to Emerson, the county sheriff at the time, Ison Thomas, said the machines were legal bingo machines. According to Alabama law, the county sheriff is also in charge of regulating gambling. Before Thomas was elected sheriff he reportedly served as Greenetrack's head of security.
Thomas went so far as to say in a press release issued this past February that he would stand at Greenetrack and block any attempt by the state government to raid Greenetrack.