Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall held a press conference Wednesday morning, releasing details on the closure of several bingo halls in Jefferson County.

Marshall said the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA), the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) helped his office shut down 14 illegal gambling operations.

"These facilities were operating in blatant disregard in violation of state law and apparently without any fear of reprisal," Marshall said.

Jefferson County Sheriff Mark Pettway has previously said he had more significant concerns to deal with than illegal gambling operations. In 2019, Pettway released a statement saying it wasn't worth the time, effort and money required to confiscate machines and track down misdemeanor offenders when he had serious violent crime to address.

The AG’s office has since been made aware of problems surrounding the bingo halls by local leaders, including Jefferson County Commission president Jimmie Stephens.

Authorities have pointed out that more crime, including violent crime and theft, has come out of illegal facilities. Marshall said that doesn’t help property values, quality of life or the local economy despite the thousands of dollars the operations make.

“It’s interesting to me that nobody ever wants to talk about that fact,” Marshall said. “The law-abiding citizens who live around these facilities and who own properties in these areas are the forgotten victims of these type of establishments.”

After the news of the bingo hall busts, first reported by 1819 News Tuesday, Marshall said he began to hear the narrative that gambling isn’t a real problem and isn’t hurting anybody. However, he said the law is the law, and he can’t ignore the “rampant gambling” in Jefferson County.

“Gambling is illegal in Alabama as the Supreme Court has recently affirmed,” he said. “Allowing illegal gambling and activity to operate freely in broad daylight is offensive to the rule of law, and we simply aren’t going to tolerate it.”

Members of the media questioned Marshall about the laws on electronic bingo and jobs lost due to the closing of the illegal operations.

WVTM 13 reporter Gladys Bautista asked, “So, why is gambling in Alabama illegal?”

Marshall replied, “Under the constitution, it says that you cannot have illegal gambling in our state.”

Bautista then asked Marshall to speak on how local authorities had allowed the gambling operations to continue for so long. Although he couldn't speak on behalf of local authorities, he said he would uphold the law.

Another reporter then asked Marshall about putting people out of jobs.

"All I can say is that there are opportunities to work at lawful businesses throughout the state and throughout this community," Marshall replied. "This is not an economic development situation behind me. This is an illegal operation that can't be allowed to continue."

The AG's office shut down the facilities after obtaining temporary restraining orders. No arrests have been made. Marshall said the investigation continues and that shutting down the first 14 facilities is just the start of stopping the operations. He also said he was aware there are other bingo halls still operating in Jefferson County.

"It's extremely frustrating, not just for me but for people in this community," Marshall added. "Because they understand and see and know the illegal nature of what's taking place here, but yet, it's allowed to continue."

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