MONTOMERY, Ala. - More than two years have passed since Alabama TV audiences have seen ubiquitous ads by VictoryLand casino owner Milton McGregor proclaiming: "You can be a winner, too."
But the silver-haired casino boss is coming back after his acquittal on federal bribery charges.
McGregor hopes to get VictoryLand open before Christmas, but it will definitely be open before the end of the year, McGregor's attorney, Joe Espy, said at a news conference Thursday.
He said some wiring and synchronization of the 1,200 gambling machines in VictoryLand remains to be done. McGregor is hiring 200 to 250 workers for the reopening, and plans to add more machines and open other parts of the gambling operation as business permits.
VictoryLand, 15 miles west of Montgomery in Shorter, was once Alabama's biggest gambling operation with live dog racing, 6,000 electronic machines, a high-end restaurant and a golden-colored high-rise hotel. The casino shut down in 2010 under pressure from Gov. Bob Riley's gambling task force. Riley contended the games were illegal slots, but McGregor called them legal electronic bingo. Without the casino, there wasn't enough business for the hotel, restaurant or live dog racing. All that has remained since 2010 is simulcast dog and horse racing, which draws a few cars to the sprawling complex alongside Interstate 85.
McGregor has been planning to reopen since a federal court jury acquitted him in March on charges accusing him of offering millions in bribes to legislators to support pro-gambling legislation.
He has installed 1,200 machines in anticipation of reopening and had them declared legal electronic bingo by the local sheriff. Espy said the machines are by different manufacturers than VictoryLand used previously and they operate differently to address concerns raised by state officials. For instance, they no longer have a handle like slot machines to start a game, and they no longer accept money. Players have to put money on an electronic card and use it to play.
Attorney General Luther Strange has taken over the work of Riley's task force since he left office in January 2011. Some privately operated gambling halls have reopened in Greene County since then and continue to operate. But Strange raided two others after they reopened with electronic games: Center Stage in Houston County in July and Southern Star Entertainment Center in Lowndes County in November.
When asked about VictoryLand's reopening, Strange said Wednesday he was working to "end illegal gambling in an orderly fashion through the court system," but he did not say what might happen with VictoryLand.
Voters in Macon County overwhelmingly approved an amendment to the state constitution in 2003 to allow bingo games. That constitutional amendment only mentions "bingo," but Espy displayed campaign literature from proponents and opponents that explained the referendum was about allowing "electronic bingo." He said it was clear to everyone what was being legalized by the constitutional amendment.
The state's crackdown on privately run gambling halls has not affected the three casinos run by the Poarch Creek Indians because they are under federal supervision. The tribe's operations in Montgomery, Wetumpka and Atmore have thrived with less competition from private casinos, but the Muscogee Creek Nation of Oklahoma filed a lawsuit Wednesday aimed at stopping the expansion of the Wetumpka casino and construction of a 20-story hotel. The suit said the remains of 57 Indians were removed from a burial ground for the expansion, and they should be returned to their graves. The Poarch Creeks released a statement calling the suit "without merit."
The Wetumpka casino is about 20 miles northwest of McGregor's VictoryLand.