A battle over gambling has erupted in the heart of America’s Bible belt.
Alabama’s governor is trying to crack down on electronic bingo, saying the slot-style machines are essentially pokies that are illegal under state law.
Victoryland is the largest electronic bingo casino in Alabama and has 6,000 machines.
Gaming director Stan Hubbard says the casino has no blackjack or roulette, only machines that look like pokies. But they are all electronic bingo – the only type of gambling in the state.
“What they’ve done is they’ve taken the bingo engine and mapped it to a lot of the games that you might be familiar with in Las Vegas or even in Australia,” Mr Hubbard said.
But as he explains, it is not the bingo grandma used to play.
“It is not, but underneath it is. It is dressed in a different dress,” he said.
But the electronic bingo casinos also provide thousands of jobs that are badly needed in the cash-strapped state.
Alabama governor Bob Riley says the electronic bingo machines are essentially pokies, which are illegal in the state.
There have been middle-of-the-night raids, some casinos have been shut down, and the FBI has begun a public corruption probe.
Mr Riley says Alabama is being threatened by bingo.
“I think one of the biggest threats we have in the state today is the corruptive nature of what gambling does to a state,” he said.
“We have said this ever since we started this. This is not about gambling as much as it is about corruption.”
The catch is, the bingo casinos were authorised by local counties. Mr Hubbard says Victoryland, which is about 40 kilometres east of the capital Montgomery, has the legal right to operate.
“Overall, it’s just like any other industry. It is like a car manufacturing plant with respect to what it means to the community. [In] this particular community, when there is no industry, it’s the largest private employer in this county.”
Many bingo casinos are in rural parts of Alabama and African-American leaders say they give their communities jobs and tax revenue. But they are also in the heart of the Bible belt.
“There are some conservative religious elements that are anti gambling of any kind and we respect that,” Mr Hubbard said.
“This facility is not for them. My grandmother, in fact, was anti-gambling but I told her that I was working here and she says, ‘well, at least you’ve got a job’.”
The Alabama legislature is considering new laws to let state residents vote on whether to keep the bingo casinos and to tax them, providing millions of dollars for ailing state coffers.
While the future of these casinos is uncertain, three casinos run by Native Americans in Alabama are protected from the raids because they are on federal land.