Alabama House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville) has been working on gambling legislation, but it’s illegal gambling that’s been dominating recent conversations about gaming in the state.

“We’ve got a problem we’ve got to fix,” Ledbetter said about gaming across the state. “It’s gotten out of hand. Organized crime has gotten involved because we don’t have a regulatory commission, and to be honest with you, every day I get someone asking when are we going to get to vote.”

The speaker said when he first started looking into illegal gambling operations across the state, he suspected there would be around 50 or 60 operations statewide. However, a special committee found the problem was much bigger than they thought. In Jefferson County alone, the committee found nearly 70 bingo operations.

“And that’s just the ones they knew of, so my guess is there are over 100,” Ledbetter added.

Jefferson County was the focus of an Alabama Attorney General’s Office investigation this summer. Multiple bingo halls were raided by state law enforcement. However, Jefferson County Sheriff Mark Pettway was not shutting down the illegal operations at the time. Since 2019, Pettway stated it wasn’t worth the time or effort when he had more serious and violent crimes to address.

Following the raids, the Jefferson County Commission decided not to renew business licenses for bingo halls, and Pettway said he would start shutting them down.

Ledbetter said shutting down illegal bingo halls should be a priority because more serious crimes are being committed within the operations.

“We had a lady die in north Alabama a few weeks ago because a guy sold her drugs that were laced with fentanyl,” Ledbetter told 1819 News. “He didn’t call emergency personnel because he didn’t want to get arrested for his gaming.”

The committee has discussed creating a regulatory body that will oversee gaming. Within that body, there would be an enforcement arm. Ledbetter said without the enforcement, the problems will continue to run rampant.

“There would be people that would enforce it that are directly accountable to the commission,” he explained. “So, they would go to those counties, and they would shut those down.”

The 2024 legislative session is set to convene on the first Tuesday in February.

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