Jefferson County Sheriff Mark Pettway recently said he was glad the County Commission decided not to renew business licenses for electronic bingo halls. However, he had the legal means to shut the operations down all along.
Bingo halls began to sprout up all over the county after Pettway became sheriff. He frequently stated he did not have time to focus on the illegal operations. In a statement from 2019, he said it was not worth the time, effort and money thrown into confiscating machines and tracking down misdemeanor offenders when he had serious violent crime to address.
However, gambling is illegal in Alabama, and Attorney General Steve Marshall said it was frustrating that any law enforcement official would ignore crime. Marshall also said illegal operations are often the "ground zero" for more serious crimes, including money laundering and drug activity.
A recent arrest in Argo could be an example of how electronic bingo and drugs are often related.
Ricardo Lopez-Solis was arrested on Dec. 21, 2022, after being pulled over on Interstate 59. According to court documents, the officer discovered cocaine and gambling machines in the suspect's vehicle. He told police the machines were from Jay's Charity Bingo, off Pinson Valley Parkway. Now, the FBI is preparing to take over that case.
Argo Police Chief Alan Busler told 1819 News the police department has possession of the evidence but expects the FBI to take over the investigation soon.
Jefferson County Commission president Jimmy Stephens has voiced concerns for years, saying illegal bingo halls have plagued parts of the county with crime. He also offered to assist the AG's office during their investigation earlier this year.
Stephens said he has met with citizens who believe it is the commission's fault that so many bingo halls have opened across the county. However, Stephens told 1819 News the Commission had done everything possible to rid the county of the businesses. He said that Pettway had the responsibility all along to shut down the operations.
Stephens said he hopes the FBI involvement means all bets will be off for electronic bingo in the future.
"Let's hope that the wheels of justice have finally begun to turn," said Stephens. "Perhaps we can meet some resolution to this that's actually been very detrimental to our neighborhoods and our communities. Maybe we will get some justice to this matter. We just hope it's not too little too late."
Lopez-Solis is considered innocent until proven guilty. His attorney has not returned a phone call from 1819 News.
To connect with the author of this story or to comment, email [email protected].
Don't miss out! Subscribe to our newsletter and get our top stories every weekday morning.