Investigators with a specialized law enforcement unit burst into a storefront on 9th Street North in Birmingham, where officials say the location was a front for illegal gaming.
A total of 22 arrests were made, including two for operating an illegal gaming establishment.
Birmingham criminal defense lawyersknow that per Alabama Code 13A-12-53, an owner that permits a gaming operation on the property may be found guilty of a felony, punishable by between one and five years in prison.
Likewise, possession of an illegal gaming device such as a slot machine, may be charged with a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a maximum $6,000 fine.
Simple gambling under the law, which is what the 20 patrons were charged with, is a Class C misdemeanor under the law, meaning it’s punishable by up to three months in jail and a fine of $500.
Under the rules strictly defined by the Alabama Supreme Court, Section 65 of the state’s constitution has been interpreted to mean that the legislature has no power to authorize lotteries or gift enterprises for any purpose, though there have been several amendments to this section. Namely, bingo games and operations have been granted legitimacy throughout the state – provided they meet a strict criteria of of six guidelines, per the 2009 Alabama Supreme Court decision in Barber v. Cornerstone Community Outreach:
- Each player uses one or more cards with spaces arranged in five columns and five rows, with an alphanumeric designation assigned to each space;
- Alphanumeric designations are randomly drawn and announced, individually;
- Players must pay attention to each value announced and if a match is found, the player must physically mark his or her card accordingly;
- A player who isn’t paying attention may miss the opportunity to be a winner;
- A player must recognize his or her own “bingo”;
- The game involves multiple players who are competing against each other.
A Jefferson County Circuit court decision in February last year found that a number of bingo machines that were operating in Birmingham were illegal because they failed to meet this criteria. They were subsequently confiscated, and the owners prosecuted.
However, we continue to see cases such as these because the profits that can be raked in with these operations are pretty substantial. An article published in theJournal of Economic Crime Management revealed that just one slot machine can provide an average annual income of between $9,200 and $30,000 annually. They can cost as little as $1,000 to purchase.
Meanwhile, the penalty for owning and operating one of these machines is $6,000. Some may see the occasional arrest and seizure as the cost of doing business.
However, it’s worth noting that, first of all, advocates are gunning for tougher sanctions. The Alabama Policy Institute, for example, recently released a report calling for arrests for these crimes to be boosted from Class A misdemeanors to Class C felonies, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and fines of up to $15,000.
Secondly, with the machines themselves and any profits seized as a result of the investigation, the current fine schedule is substantial as it is.
In this case, there were at least seven gambling machines seized from the store, which was reportedly a recording, videography and photography business. Officers said, however, there was no legitimate camera business operating there, with the only camera equipment on site a surveillance system to monitor who came in and out.
Further bolstering the case, officials said, was the fact that operators were reportedly robbed of a substantial amount of money recently, but the incident was never reported – presumably because to do so would invite police attention to the underground operation.