Leaders of the city of Pinson want bingo halls out of Jefferson County, and the mayor and council are calling on the sheriff to act.
Pinson Mayor Joe Cochran told 1819 News the city has shut down bingo operations that have opened up in city limits, but he is unable to do anything about the multiple venues operating in unincorporated areas surrounding Pinson.
“The people in Pinson are sick and tired of laws not being enforced,” said Cochran. “It’s a blight and that’s what has sparked this. The time has come to say something.”
After receiving multiple complaints from his constituents and seeing the problems associated with the facilities, Cochran said he wants what’s best for the city. He said along with the illegal operations he believes are going on inside bingo halls that there have also been reports of shootings and robberies at the locations.
“We get complaints all the time,” Cochran added. “The only person that can do anything is the sheriff, and apparently, unlike other sheriffs in the state, our sheriff has decided he’s not going to enforce that law.”
Cochran said he has contacted Jefferson County Sheriff Mark Pettway, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall and local lawmakers, State Rep. Danny Garrett (R-Trussville) and State Sen. Shay Shelnutt (R-Trussville).
“The problem is that it’s a misdemeanor instead of a felony,” Cochran explained. “So, we need our state legislatures to act and make it a felony.”
Shelnutt said he has heard of the problem and would be interested in looking into drafting a bill to stiffen penalties for those operating illegal bingo halls.
"I know it's a big problem in Jefferson County and the sheriff's not really going after them," Shelnutt told 1819 News. "I know it being a misdemeanor is just a slap on the wrist, so I would be for something like that."
Cochran said the sheriff told him he would send letters to businesses suspected of illegal gambling.
The city of Pinson contracts with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office to add deputies to enforce city ordinances. Cochran said he isn’t as concerned with deputies being pulled from the city to respond to crime at the bingo locations outside of city limits as he is with the overall issues facing the sheriff’s office.
“The bottom line is, they need to shore up that sheriff’s department, get more people hired and enforce the laws,” he said.
1819 News has reached out to Jefferson County Sheriff Mark Pettway for comment and to request a copy of the letter sent to bingo halls.
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