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As of Tuesday afternoon, the lawyers representing the Town of Ashville’s American Legion Post 170 and its co-plaintiff, Shooting Star, LLC, rested their case in a trial that will test the legal feasibility of electronic bingo machines being installed in Ashville.

The hot button issue has brought public outcry from many area citizens and lawyers representing both sides of the argument presented their case before Circuit Judge Charles Robinson. Robinson is expected to rule on the issue soon.

There are thousands of electronic bingo machines already being used in the state, including in Walker County, where Ashville Mayor and American Legion Post 170 supervisor, Robert McKay testified that he was told that Post 170s previous bingo players had been flocking to over the last few years.

McKay testified that Post 170 has been operating “session” bingo, which is the traditional form of the game for many years. He said that in the old days of the American Legion that law enforcement would turn a blind eye to the military organization because, as a charity, “They were giving away money, so no one ever asked [any questions].”

Court documents presented by the plaintiffs said that the post has given away $1,570,085 since it began collecting a 10-cent “card fee” after a bingo amendment was passed in the county in 1992.

McKay, who helped to get that bingo amendment passed, said that until he recently began to look seriously at the idea of allowing electronic bingo because of the money and jobs that it would bring to his town.

He said that Ashville went from having $140,000 in its budget to $19,000 in just one year and that the town’s council has had to cut police services and pay $275,000 in bills from its water fund.

He said that Shooting Star would pay Ashville $100 per electronic bingo machine and help being in a hotel, restaurants and new jobs for northern St. Clair County.

The defense offered McKay a chance to defend his previous stance against the electronic machines and presented him with a fax that he sent to the St. Clair District Attorney’s Office, which stated that he was trying to get electronic bingo machines shut down in the area.

He stated that because so much money had been lost from electronic bingo to surrounding areas that Post 170 had gone from operating bingo six times a week to offering it on Sunday only and that numbers were dwindling because of the lure of the electronic machines in surrounding counties.

“If you don’t get on the bus, it’s going to run over you,” he told those in court.

He said that if the electronic bingo measure was allowed to go through that he had no intention of setting up what he had previously testified was a “trash mess” in Walker County. He said that there would only be one facility that operated electronic bingo as opposed to the steel metal buildings that dot the area where electronic bingo is played in that county.

McKay said that there was no intention of setting up a bingo hall anywhere near downtown or where children play.

“If the American Legion is going to stay in business, we’ve got to do it,” McKay said. “We’re just trying to make [things] good for Ashville, its employees [and] the people who are on food stamps. We can put them to work. I’ve finally decided that [the electronic bingo machines] are legal and we’ve got to get them. We’re going broke… No; we are broke.”

When asked by the defense why he has recently decided that the machines are legal, he responded, “I’ve been educated to the fact that they are legal.

The defense then made its case that the amendment passed in 1992 was a very narrow exception of the game commonly known as bingo, not electronic bingo.

Before McKay testified, the plaintiffs called electronic bingo expert Nicola “Nick” Farley, president and founder of Nick Farley and Associates, a gaming device consulting organization out of Ohio, to give testimony about the workings of electronic bingo machines and how they operate.

Farley, who has worked with electronic gaming machines for 20 years, testified before Judge Robinson that Class 2 gaming machines, which would include electronic bingo games, were no different than paper card bingo games in their design other than the fact that they are electronic and use a computer server system to generate numbers rather than using a traditional ball sorting method.

Farley said that a game of chance played using a card or symbols derived from a finite pool of numbers or symbols drawn randomly and compared to a “card” that players use is both the same in electronic bingo machines and traditional paper card bingo. He said that having two or more players win prizes based on generating a pattern with that system should not be compared to other electronic gaming devices such as slot machines.

Lawyers representing both Sheriff Terry Surles and the State argued that electronic chance games are no different than playing roulette or craps, since there is a finite pool of numbers used in those games and a correlating “pattern” could be only one number.

The defense also argued that there could be a chance that an electronic gaming machine could be altered to produce winning numbers more similar to a slot machine, which generates a random number and the outcome is determined after a lever is pulled.

But Farley said that electronic bingo machines were much more expensive to make and maintain. He also suggested that if a company was to manufacture a faulty machine that it would most likely have to shut down all of its gaming machines, no mater which state or jurisdiction it is used in, in order to maintain their gaming permits and licenses.

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