Alabama Casinos and Gambling
The Yellowhammer State is home to seven different pari-mutuel and gambling facilities. Because table games are illegal under all circumstances, even the three Native American properties operating within Alabama borders don’t really feel like traditional casinos.
Casino gambling in Alabama is a confusing subject because the state’s various laws related to gaming are old and contain out-of-date language. Consider the existence of electronic bingo parlors in several big cities across the state – they operate openly, even though according to state law they are illegal.
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Gambling Options in Alabama
Seven gambling venues were open in Alabama at the time I wrote this article:
- Creek Casino Montgomery
- Greenetrack Bingo & Racing
- Mobile Greyhound Park
- The Birmingham Race Course
- Wind Creek Atmore Casino & Hotel
- Wind Creek Wetumpka Casino & Hotel
Each of these properties is located in a different city, so that gambling is highly localized and easy for this relatively-poor state to monitor. Each offers a slightly different product.
Here’s a breakdown of the games available at each of Alabama’s gaming venues:
Creek Casino Montgomery is a Native American casino featuring 2,300 slot machines, electronic bingo, and resort-style amenities like shopping and dining. It is one of the few properties in the state that can be considered a casino, even though no table games are available.
Greenetrack Bingo & Racing is a live and simulcast racetrack and electronic bingo parlor that also offers 200 different gaming machines. It is similar to the racinos found all over New England.
Mobile Greyhound Park is a Native American casino and live and simulcast racetrack that’s one of the closest things to a casino in the state’s borders. Like Creek Casino Montgomery, every legal gambling option in Alabama is available at Mobile Greyhound Park.
The Birmingham Race Course is a live and simulcast greyhound racetrack that has no other games of chance or skill available.
VictoryLand is a slot and simulcast race betting parlor without table games or live racing. The venue’s 3,200 slot machines make it the biggest purveyor of the games in the state at this time.
Wind Creek Atmore Casino & Hotel is a Native American casino property that lacks table games. More than 1,500 machines games are available, as is simulcast race betting and resort-style amenities.
Wind Creek Watumpka Casino & Hotel is a Native American casino property without table games, but with nearly 3,000 different machines, including slots and e-bingo.
Are Alabama Casinos Legal?
Just going off state law, Alabamans are committing a crime by engaging in any form of gambling.
Read section 13A-12-20 of the state’s constitution, and you’ll find this quote defining illegal gambling as:
“. . . [staking] or risk[ing] something of value upon the outcome of a contest of chance or a future contingent event not under his control or influence, upon an agreement or understanding that he or someone else will receive something of value in the event of a certain outcome.”
That language (taken literally) makes all wagering in the state illegal.
But at this very moment, in the state of Alabama, you can place legal wagers on slot machines, bingo games, pull-tabs, and dog and horse racing. The reason these businesses exist legally is the existence of municipal and county laws that make allowances for certain types of bets.
The weird thing about Alabama gaming is that the state law on the subject hasn’t changes since the 19th century. All gaming legislation in the past 100 years or so has been at the local level, and it has all been in the direction of legalization. Seven cities (and in some cases entire counties) have determined that the benefits of gaming outweigh the costs. They’ve been acting in defiance of state law for decades, with no incident. It appears Alabama is fine as long as the action is limited.
As a result, some forms of gambling popular in other parts of the US are simply not available. Casinos don’t allow table games or poker, almost as a concession to the state for allowing them their e-bingo, greyhound racing, and slot machines.
More Facts about Alabama Gaming Law
Playing in home games or social gambling settings is illegal under state law. That includes friendly bets in office pools or play in charity bingo games, both of which are technically illegal under state law.
The state applies pretty harsh penalties for breaking these laws. If you were charged with the crime of “simple gambling” (meaning you knowingly profited from an illegal gambling activity) earns you a Class C Misdemeanor. You could spend as much as three months in jail and you will most certainly pay the state a fine of $500 for each charge. By the way, those are the same penalties for felony stalking and harassment charges.
If you are caught illegally possessing a gambling device in Alabama, you’ll be a felon, have your voting and gun ownership rights taken way, and face ten years’ imprisonment. Some lawyers in the state have blogged about the fact that the state could claim that possessing virtual poker chips or online gaming software qualifies for this charge, though this hasn’t happened yet. You’ll also pay $15,000 in fines for every gaming machine you’re caught in possession of.
These are some of the harshest penalties in the country.
Okay, so I just scared you a little, didn’t I?
Here’s the thing – as long as you’re playing in one of the seven places mentioned above, you’re not committing a crime. Local law and state precedent protects you. I could find no mention of a gambler being arrested while playing a legitimate slot or e-bingo game in the state.
Alabama seems focused more on political corruption as it relates to gaming. This story from 2010, about a group of state politicians taking bribes from pro-gaming groups, is the raciest gaming-related story from the past thirty or forty years.
So long as you stick to one of the Native American casino properties, or the locally-regulated e-bingo and race betting parlors, your bets in Alabama are not actually illegal.
Though it’s a shame the state doesn’t allow games of blackjack, craps, or poker, the existence of thousands of gaming machines and multiple venues for race betting means the state is not a total gambling dead zone.