Court allows Alabama lawsuits against casinos to move ahead

Published 6:48 am Saturday, September 26, 2020

Courts in two rural counties were wrong when they dismissed lawsuits filed by the state seeking to have three casinos declared public nuisances, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled Friday.

The decision meant the state can resume cases challenging operations at VictoryLand in Macon County as well as White Hall Entertainment and Southern Star Entertainment in Lowndes County.

Attorney General Steve Marshall said his office will seek injunctions to permanently shut down the three casinos.

“For too long, these individuals, businesses, and even elected officials have flagrantly violated Alabama’s laws,” Marshall said in a statement.

An attorney on the side of a company involved with the casinos did not immediately reply to a message seeking comment.

The state, which has repeatedly attempted to shut down gambling halls with electronic games resembling slot machines, filed separate lawsuits in 2017 asking courts to declare that the casinos, located east and west of Montgomery, were public nuisances because they promoted illegal gambling.

The defendants asked courts to dismiss the lawsuits, arguing that state courts did not have the power to hear the cases and claiming the attempted shutdowns were wrong since the state did not include Wind Creek casinos operated by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians in the case.

A county judge sided with the casino operators and dismissed the Macon County lawsuit last year, and the justices considered both cases for purposes of appeal since they involved issues that were virtually identical.

In a 74-page opinion written by Associate Justice Kelli Wise, the court ruled the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, based in Atmore, was not an “indispensable party” to the dispute and did not have to be included in the complaints. A federal court has already barred the state from trying to make public nuisance claims against the tribe’s operations, Justice Brady Mendheim wrote in a separate opinion.

While the county judges both determined they lacked the legal power to consider the cases, helping lead to the dismissals, the state argued the courts can consider the suits. The justices agreed and sent the cases back to circuit court.