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VictoryLand casino could be dry for reopening

Phillip Rawls, Associated Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) -- The planned reopening of VictoryLand casino in Alabama's Macon County could come without liquor.

State Attorney General Luther Strange is asking Alabama's liquor control board to deny a liquor license for the casino. In a letter to the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, Strange said VictoryLand has a history of violating laws against illegal gambling. He also wrote that a state constitutional amendment allowing bingo in Macon County "doesn't even mention the word 'electronic' nor does it allow the use of any electronic device to play bingo."

A spokesman for the ABC Board, Capt. Hal Taylor, said Monday the board had been on the verge of issuing a license when it got the attorney general's letter Friday and that stopped the process. He said whenever anyone protests an application for a liquor license, the matter goes before a commission of ABC Board employees to decide. The agency is talking with the attorney general's office and VictoryLand to try to schedule a mutually agreeable date, and Taylor said it's too early to know when that might be. He said it won't be scheduled with any other hearings because it is likely to be lengthy.

If VictoryLand owner Milton McGregor doesn't like the commission's decision, he can appeal to the three-member ABC Board, which is appointed by the governor, and then take the matter to circuit court, Taylor said.

McGregor's attorneys, John Bolton and Joe Espy, sent the ABC Board a letter Monday saying that VictoryLand started selling liquor when it opened as a dog track in 1984 and never had its license suspended or revoked by the liquor agency. He said the attorney general had no legal standing to intervene in the license application and no hearing is necessary for the board to act.

They also disputed the attorney general's comments about machines not being allowed in Macon County and said the attorney general's involvement "is motivated purely by political concerns."

McGregor has installed 1,200 machines and started hiring more than 200 employees in anticipation of reopening no later than the end of the year and possibly by Christmas.

VictoryLand, 15 miles east of Montgomery in Shorter, was once Alabama's largest casino with more than 6,000 machines. McGregor closed it in 2010 under pressure from the state's gambling task force. He was acquitted of federal bribery charges in March and set out to reopen his casino. Macon County Sheriff David Warren, who regulates bingo in the rural county, declared last week that the 1,200 machines are legal electronic bingo.

Since shutting down the casino in 2010, VictoryLand has continued to offer simulcast horse and dog races. That part of the complex has a liquor license, but the simulcast area is separate from the sprawling casino gaming rooms at VictoryLand. Taylor said the new liquor license sought by VictoryLand would allow it to serve liquor in the one portion of its casino that it is reopening and in other portions of the casino if they are reopened later.