Judge rules Center Stage gambling machines illegal (AP) Phillip Rawls, Associated Press · October 17, 2013 at 6:24 pm DOTHAN, Ala. (AP) – A judge ruled Thursday that machines seized from a gambling hall are illegal and can be destroyed, giving another victory to state Attorney General Luther Strange in his campaign to close privately operated casinos. The Houston Economic Development Authority, a nonprofit group that operated Center Stage, argued that its games were legal electronic versions of traditional paper bingo. But Houston County Circuit Judge Michael Conaway ruled the machines did not meet the legal requirements for bingo set out by the Alabama Supreme Court and they amounted to illegal slot machines. “It is illegal gambling cloaked in a ‘bingo’ costume,” the judge wrote. He ruled the state can destroy the 691 machines seized in a raid in July 2012 and the state General Fund can have the $288,688 from the raid because the money was proceeds of illegal gambling. Strange said the ruling makes it clear that a state constitutional amendment allowing bingo in Houston County permits only traditional paper bingo. “Bingo operators have tried to create confusion in the law, but this ruling ends the nonsense,” Strange said. The Houston Economic Development Authority will appeal to the state Supreme Court, attorney Ernie Hornsby said. He said the operators went through several steps to have a legal operation, including getting the Houston County Commission to sign off on the games. The judge’s ruling relied heavily on the state Supreme Court decision from a state raid on a Lowndes County casino that was the first of several shut down by state officials since 2009. In that case, the Supreme Court said bingo must meet six elements, including players paying attention to numbers being called individually, then marking their cards and announcing to other players when they have a win. The Dothan judge said the Center Stage games did not require a player to display any particularly attention or skill to participate. “There is no way of verifying another players’ bingo victory and essentially all human skill has been eliminated from this animated version of the game,” the judge wrote. The attorney general said the ruling should “serve as a warning for those currently engaged in illegal gambling activities or contemplating slot machines in Houston County and throughout the state.” Center Stage is located about five miles south of Dothan near the Florida line. It is in the same building as Country Crossing, a casino closed by state officials in 2010. While state officials have succeeded in closing privately operated gambling halls, casinos operated by the Poarch Creek Indians in Atmore, Wetumpka and Montgomery remain open because they come under federal regulation. Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.