Sheriff clarifies gambling laws, enforcement stance

Posted 4/10/19

Walker County Sheriff Nick Smith issued a statement Monday clarifying what constitutes illegal gambling.The statement, drafted in conjunction with the office of state Attorney General Steve Marshall, …

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Sheriff clarifies gambling laws, enforcement stance


Walker County Sheriff Nick Smith issued a statement Monday clarifying what constitutes illegal gambling.

The statement, drafted in conjunction with the office of state Attorney General Steve Marshall, lists paper bingo played traditionally with paper or plastic cards and bingo markers as the only game of chance legal in the state.

Games of skill, defined as any game which requires the player to exert any skill other than putting in coins and pushing a button, pulling a lever, etc. or a game that relies more on a player’s skill than random chance or “luck,” is also legal.

Illegal activities include electronic bingo and games of chance, defined as any game which can be won by no act of the player or a game that relies more on chance than a player’s skill. Specific examples are slot machines, penny machines, dice and roulette.

Pushing a button or pulling a lever is not considered a “skill” under state law, according to the release.

Lotteries and raffles are also illegal, meaning persons or organizations cannot sell tickets for a chance to win something else.

Games of any kind cannot pay out in cash or anything redeemable for, or as, cash (such as gift cards). All prizes awarded from games of skill must have a monetary value of less than $5. 

Businesses cannot award tags, tokens or points redeemable for cash. 

"This is why the prizes awarded at carnivals and places like Chuck E. Cheese’s are essentially worthless. For them to abide by state law, their prizes have to be worth $5 or less," the release states.

The release also includes a lengthy statement from Walker County Sheriff Nick Smith, who recently cracked down on electronic bingo halls in the county. 

“Illegal gambling is just that - illegal. It is not law enforcement’s role in society to make decisions on what laws will or won’t be enforced based on their own personal opinions," Smith said. "It is our role to understand and enforce the laws our legislature puts forth. The Walker County Sheriff’s Office will continue to do exactly that, because each one of us took an oath to do so.

"In the grand scheme of criminal activity, illegal gambling is not comparable to violent crimes, crimes of a sexual nature, or crimes against a person’s property. We understand that. However, it is still a crime, and our enforcement of those laws doesn’t take away from our enforcement of any others. We will arrest and prosecute murderers, rapists, and thieves just like we will arrest and prosecute the proprietors of illegal gambling operations because that is our job, and as law enforcement professionals, we are fully capable of handling the vast array of laws we are tasked with enforcing. The people of Walker County elected me to enforce the law. That is the penultimate role of the sheriff within the borders of his county. 

"The people of Walker County did not elect me to listen to some opinions over others, and they certainly didn’t elect me to decide which laws we will enforce based on any one particular opinion of that law. Agree with the gambling laws, disagree with the gambling laws, or have no opinion of them at all, but the Walker County Sheriff’s Office will enforce the law. With that being said, if you are operating an illegal gambling establishment, we will shut your operation down, confiscate any illegal proceeds made, seize your machines, arrest you, and prosecute you in a court of law, because that is the law and that is what is right and just. Until that law changes, we will enforce it. Period.”

Carbon Hill Police Chief Eric House said Monday night that electronic bingo operations in Carbon Hill, where most of the recent Walker County operations were located, have continued to be absent after House and Smith approached them with information on what is legal and not legal. 

The Sheriff's Office recently raided an electronic facility in the Jasper area after Smith said closed facilities in Carbon Hill posted signs referring customers to the Jasper facility. A total of 40 machines were confiscated in the raid. 

In a related development, Marshall announced Tuesday that search warrants were executed that day on four gambling facilities in Jefferson County by state agents from the Attorney General’s Office, with support from agents with the Alabama State Bureau of Investigation.