A bill will soon be introduced to the Alabama Legislature that, if passed, will outlaw electronic bingo machines in Cullman County.

Rep. Jeremy Oden, who is sponsoring the bill, said he would introduce it in the House in two weeks.

“I don’t think we’ll have any problem getting it through,” Oden said.

Currently, Cullman County has no law that would permit charitable bingo in the area. Under state law, bingo is allowed in Alabama, provided counties adopt a constitutional amendment authorizing recognized charities to conduct bingo for charity purposes. According to Office of Attorney General Troy King’s Web site, 13 counties have such an amendment.

Though Cullman does not have the amendment, Oden noted that the state law makes no mention of electronic bingo machines.

“That law doesn’t negate bingo machines,” Oden said. “When these machines come in, it becomes more like gambling. I’ve gone out and talked to people and they’ve told me they don’t want these things in Cullman.”

Cullman County Commission Chairman James Graves said he agreed with Oden.

“Don’t allow it if you don’t have any laws and rules to regulate it,” Graves said.

Due to the discrepancy in the law, Oden said many counties and municipalities have passed ordinances allowing the bingo machines, even some which have not passed constitutional amendments that permit charitable bingo.

“There are three ways you can get these things. You can get the local county commission to approve it, get the local municipality to approve it or people can bring them in without approval and the district attorney will not prosecute them,” Oden said. “What is happening in some counties is the district attorneys won’t prosecute because of the vagueness of the state law.”

The debate over whether electronic bingo machines are illegal has gone on for several months between Gov. Bob Riley and Attorney General Troy King. According to the Associated Press, King has stated electronic bingo machines are legal in some counties, even if they have spinning wheels and levers that resemble slot machines. He said it's how the machines operate, not what they look like, that determines their legality.

Riley has said they are what they look like — illegal slot machines.

In December, Riley created the Governor's Task Force on Illegal Gambling and picked a veteran gambling prosecutor, former Jefferson County District Attorney David Barber, to lead it. King was not among Riley's appointees to the task force.

King in turn did not give the task force's private lawyers permission to represent the state in court.

Debate over the law will not be an issue, however, if the bingo machine bill is passed, Oden said.

“It can protect us from any bingo parlors,” he said.

‰ Patrick McCreless can be reached by e-mail at patrickm@cullmantimes.com or by telephone at 734-2131 ext. 270.

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