Federal officials are probing corruption in Alabama's bingo battle, yet another twist in the convoluted saga over whether the state should allow electronic bingo machines to raise money for local governments or charities.
Agents from the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Attorney's office and the FBI say they have found "substantial evidence of corruption" around a legislative battle to formally legalize the bingo machines, which look similar to slot machines, according to The New York Times
. On April 11, the Birmingham News
reported that at least two lawmakers had worn wires as part of the investigation after they had received offers from bingo lobbyists that they considered bribes.
Gov. Bob Riley, a Republican opposed to gambling, has been targeting bingo machines in his state for the past year. His task force on illegal gambling which has gone after bingo operators, in some cases raiding them in the middle of the night and hauling away the machines. About 100 parlors have already shut down, according to a Stateline.org
report last month, and employees at the remaining operations are fearful for their jobs. The task force has sparked lawsuits and counter suits and suffered a black eye when its head was forced to step down following revelations that he had won $2,300 at a casino in neighboring Mississippi. The Rev. Jesse Jackson has led a march and somebody hired a plane to fly over the Rose Bowl in California with a banner that read "Impeach Corrupt Ala. Gov. Bob Riley."
Lotteries are illegal in Alabama but 16 counties have allowed bingo as a way to raise money. Riley's campaign has prompted bingo supporters in the legislature, mostly Democrats, to craft a constitutional amendment that would legalize, regulate and tax bingo parlors in the state. The Senate approved the amendment last month. If the House follows suit this week, the motion will go before voters in November.
A state senator told the News
that a bingo lobbyist had offered him $250,000 in campaign contributions to support the amendment. Another senator, who said he was working with federal investigators, also revealed that he had been offered unusually large contributions. Proponents of the bingo amendment say the federal investigation is politically motivated.