Entertainment centers potential closing looms over the 45

Published 9:26 pm Friday, November 4, 2022

The 2021 United States Census Bureau reported 109 establishments employing Lowndes County residents. 

Now, county leaders and citizens wait to learn if they will lose two of those employers as attorneys and court officials grapple with the fate of three Alabama gaming operations.

White Hall Entertainment and Southern Star Entertainment provide jobs for Lowndes County citizens and according to Commissioner Charlie King, Jr., they support communities in other ways, too.

“They have been very diligent in giving to the towns and nonprofit organizations in the county to support them in what they do,” King said. “They’ve made donations to towns like Gordonville and Mosses, and they employ roughly 100 people in the area.”

And while some view gaming operations as community partners, others say they have a negative impact on local families.

“We’d like for people not to lose their jobs,” said James Greene, pastor at Lowndesboro Baptist Church. “But gambling has an impact. You’re not going to win at it.”

On Sept. 30, the Alabama Supreme Court issued a unanimous opinion in the case of State v. Epic Tech, LLC., ruling that so-called “electronic bingo” offered at Southern Star, White Hall, and Victoryland are actually a form of illegal gambling known as “video slot machine gambling.”

“The Alabama Supreme Court’s opinion makes clear what my office has maintained from the start: these gambling enterprises are not only patently illegal under Alabama law, but also a menace to public health, morals, safety, and welfare,” said Attorney General Steve Marshall in a recent press release.

Representatives from Southern Star and White Hall declined to comment, but residents who enjoy spending time at the establishments, say they hope it remains open.

“It would be bad [if it closes],” declared area resident Lois Timmons. “It would cut out a lot of jobs.”

But according to Alabama Citizens Action Program President and CEO Greg Davis, gambling, like other addictive behaviors, preys on individuals and families.

“Gambling is a known addictive behavior and also predatory at the same time,” Davis explained. “Gambling violates basic Christian morality and ruins lives and families and is detrimental to society. Any time we can cut access, it’s positive and will make that community safer and more prosperous.”

David Edwards travels from Selma to play Keno at White Hall.

“It gives me time to relax and drink coffee,” Edwards said. “Closing it doesn’t make any sense.”

Commissioner Robert Harris said the county can not afford to lose the entertainment centers.

“We welcome the casinos in our county for different reasons,” Harris said. “One is for employment opportunities. Another is recreation activities for our older people. The residents they employ put money back into the county. The casinos’ closing would impact us economically and impact those individual’s ability to provide a decent home for their family.”

The Supreme Court instructed lower courts to issue injunctions within 30 days barring the operations from offering electronic bingo machines.

So far, no injunctions have been filed.

The Montgomery Advertiser reported Sunday that on Oct. 14, gaming center attorneys submitted a request for rehearing in the Supreme Court, but the court has not yet responded with whether the request will be granted.