UPDATED: Search warrant served at Southern Star

Published 1:33 pm Friday, November 2, 2012

Attorney General Luther Strange announced that a search warrant was served Friday morning at Southern Star casino in the Lowndes County town of White Hall by law enforcement agents from the Attorney General’s Office and the Alabama Department of Public Safety.

The Lowndes County Sheriff also provided security for the execution of the search warrant.

This law enforcement action was taken in response to illegal gambling operations. “Today’s actions are the culmination of an investigative process over the last several months,” said Attorney General Strange. “From my first day in office, I have worked to ensure that illegal gambling laws are enforced consistently across the state.”

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As a result of the Attorney General’s efforts, the country’s largest gambling machine manufacturers removed their machines from Alabama last year, including the removal of all gambling machines at the shuttered White Hall Entertainment Center casino, located just a short distance from the Southern Star in the town of White Hall.

Southern Star opened in early August 2010, but was closed down just over a month later in September 2010.

While Hall Entertainment Center remained closed, however, the Southern Star casino, re-opened earlier this year with so-called “electronic bingo” machines that state law enforcement agents determined were illegal.

The search warrant served on Friday culminated in the seizure of more than 350 machines and an undisclosed amount of cash from Southern Star.

These machines, along with the seized money, will be held as evidence and will be subject to a forfeiture procedure in the Circuit Court of Lowndes County.

“Until the Alabama Legislature acts to create an effective deterrent for large scale illegal gambling, individuals will continue to engage in illegal gambling activity and openly defy the law,” Strange said. “These individuals stand to make millions of dollars in illegal gambling profits while risking only a slap-on-the-wrist misdemeanor charge.  Law enforcement will continue to be forced to expend valuable resources to deal with the statewide problem, as we have recently seen in Walker County and Etowah County.  The Legislature must change that weakness in our law and create a badly needed deterrent for large scale illegal gambling by increasing the penalty for operating an illegal slot machine casino to a felony.”

Kay Patterson of the Attorney General’s Press Office said no arrests have been made at this time in relation to Friday’s search warrant.

Southern Star is operated by the White Hall Enrichment Advancement Team (WHEAT) charity.

According to the Attorney General’s website, bingo is legal in counties that have adopted a constitutional amendment authorizing bingo for charitable purposes.

Lowndes County has adopted such an amendment, and while WHEAT was registered as a Section 501(c)(3) non-profit organization at some point, The Lowndes Signal was unable to find a current registration with Alabama Secretary of State Beth Chapman’s Office.

According to tax records, WHEAT reported $30,644 in revenue in 2010.

The organization also reported a $2,600 donation to “the elementary public school in White Hall.”

After subtracting business expenses related to running Southern Star, WHEAT reported a net loss of $206,002 in 2010.

It is unknown how much revenue was generated by the casino since its re-opening earlier this year.