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Greene County bingo center resuming operations despite state raid

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EUTAW, Alabama — Some of Greene County's bingo parlors are reopening following a raid by state authorities, who contend the operations violate Alabama law.

The Tuscaloosa News (http://bit.ly/1gPB2ga ) reported Friday that some of the operations began resuming business after Sheriff Joe Benison gave the go-ahead.

Attorney General Luther Strange, who contends electronic bingo machines are illegal, declined comment, said spokeswoman Joy Patterson.

State police and Strange's office seized more than 1,300 gaming machines and nearly $117,000 from three bingo parlors in Greene County two weeks ago. While the state argues the machines are illegal gambling devices, the county and the bingo operators claim the machines are legal.

Workers at River's Edge bingo in Knoxville were unloading machines on Thursday, and Green Charity Bingo in Eutaw has resumed operations.

The sheriff is one of several elected officials who have publicly condemned the raids, saying they violate the rights of Greene County voters who overwhelmingly approved bingo in a constitutional amendment in 2003.

The amendment authorized certain types of charitable bingo within the county and appointed the sheriff to create and oversee bingo regulations.

"The Constitution of Alabama is the highest legal authority in the state, and this document empowers the sheriff, and the sheriff alone, to interpret and enforce laws regarding bingo," said Flint Liddon, a Birmingham attorney who represents Benison. "He has of course vetted the machines to make sure that they comply with the law. He continues to maintain that the attorney general does not have the authority to interpret the law as it applies to bingo in Greene County."

Greenetrack president Nat Winn said a rally is planned in Tuscaloosa on April 26 to bring attention to the dispute between the county and state leaders.

Since 2010, state officials have raided Greenetrack three times, Frontier Bingo twice and Green Charity and River's Edge once. Winn and others planning the rally say about 1,000 jobs have been lost in a county with just 9,000 residents.

A representative from the U.S. Department of Justice's Community Relations Service met with Greene County elected officials, bingo license holders and citizens in Eutaw Monday to investigate claims that voting rights were violated by the raids.

"The meeting went well," said Charlanna Spencer, a Montgomery attorney who represents Greenetrack. "I gave her an overview of the issues and other citizens and community leaders discussed the impact on their voting rights. We hope to hear back from her soon."

Documents filed by the attorney general's office show authorities seized 449 machines and $191,249 from Frontier Bingo during the most recent raid; 330 machines and $4,878 from Green Charity; and 593 machines along with $116,819 from River's Edge.

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