The Alabama Casino Scene

Alabama State Seal With a Casino Background

Alabama might not be the first state you think of when you think of gambling and casinos. You probably do know that it’s the “Heart of Dixie,” though.

As it turns out, Alabama does have a casino scene, and in this post, I’m going to reveal some of the secrets about the Alabama casino scene you might not know about.

An Overview of the Alabama Casino and Gambling Scene

Alabama’s probably never going to compete with Nevada or even Oklahoma in terms of casinos, but the state does boast three Native American casinos and a racino with parimutuel betting. The only kind of gambling you can do at these casinos, though, is via Class II gambling machines.

You must be at least 21 years old to gamble in the casinos in Alabama. That’s the minimum age to play poker for real money, too. You must be 18 to play bingo or to participate in parimutuel wagers.

And, Alabama is one of the only six states in the Union without a state lottery.

It’s illegal for an individual to own a Class III slot machine, but individual collectors are allowed to legally own Class II slot machines.

Go figure.

Class II Slot Machines in Alabama and How They Work

What’s a Class II gambling machine?

A traditional slot machine has a random number generator that creates the outcomes on the screen in front of you. (If it’s an old-fashioned machine, the RNG generates the reel symbols on the reels.) Actual mechanical slot machines no longer operate in casinos anywhere in the United States that I know of.

Each slot machine has its own RNG. It’s just a computer program that thinks of thousands of numbers per second. When you hit the spin button or pull the lever, that program stops on whatever number it’s thinking of at that instant.

And each of those numbers corresponds to a combination of reel symbols. The payouts are based on how likely a specific set of reel symbols is to occur on a payline. The payout is always less than the probability of getting that result.

Class II Slot Machine

Here’s an example:

If you have a 1 in 5 probability of getting a specific combination, it’s probably going to pay off at even money or 2 for 1 instead of the 5 to 1 that would make it a break-even bet.

Those kinds of slot machines are called Class III slot machines. That’s a legal distinction because different states have different laws about what kinds of gambling are allowed and which aren’t.

Class II slot machines duplicate the visible action of a traditional slot machine but does so within the letter of the law. Class II gaming, basically, just refers to bingo games – whether they’re electronic or not.

When these laws were first passed, this led to a rise in how common bingo halls were in states where Indian gaming had become popular. Then someone realized that if you used a bingo algorithm to power the results on a game that looked like a slot machine, you could stay legal and make more money.

You can only tell the difference between a Class III slot machine and a Class II slot machine by the small LED bingo card on the front of the machine you’re playing. It lights up with a bingo pattern after every spin, but most people ignore it and focus on the reel symbols instead.

But what’s happening behind-the-scenes is that you’re playing an electronic bingo with at least one other player in a centralized computer system. The outcome of this electronic bingo game determines your payout on the “slot machine.”

Class II slot machine games offer basically the same odds as Class III slot machines, they just use a different mechanism to determine the outcomes. One of the best analogies is that Class II bingo resembles playing a scratch-and-win lottery ticket.

One thing to beware of, though – Class II “video poker” games aren’t really video poker at all. They don’t mimic the odds you’d find in a deck of cards, and the decisions you make during play are essentially meaningless.

And, since making meaningful decisions is the whole point to real money video poker, you can’t really justify playing Class II video poker games.

Victoryland Is the Largest Casino in Alabama

VictoryLand is more than just a casino. It also offers a race betting and a hotel. It’s located in Shorter, Alabama. The casino has an interesting history.

In 2010, they were forced to close their casino, restaurant, and hotel. A federal probe into “gambling improprieties” prompted the arrest of Victoryland’s owner, Milton McGregor, and 10 state senators and lobbyists. Charges included bribery, conspiracy, and honest services fraud.

Victoryland Casino in Alabama

In 2012, McGregor was acquitted of all charges, but Alabama’s Attorney General, Luther Strange, insisted that the electronic bingo machines on the site were illegal.

In 2013, the state seized over a quarter million dollars in cash and over 1500 gambling machines.

But in 2015, the courts found that it was unusual and inappropriate that the state’s Attorney General was only taking action against Victoryland and not the other Alabama land based casinos which were operating in the same manner.

The casino reopened (again) in 2016 with over 500 gambling machines.

Victoryland now has over 1000 gambling machines on its gaming floor, and the casino is open 24/7.

The Wind Creek Casinos Are the Other Casinos in Alabama

Besides Victoryland, you’ll find casino-style gambling at three other casinos in Alabama, all of which are named “Wind Creek Casino.” These include:

  • Wind Creek Casino & Hotel Atmore
  • Wind Creek Casino & Hotel Montgomery
  • Wind Creek Casinos & Hotel Wetumpka

The biggest of these is Wind Creek Casino & Hotel Wetumpka, which offers 2500+ gambling machines. They claim to offer the highest payouts in the Southeast on their website, but that sounds like marketing-speak to me. (The state of Alabama doesn’t require any of the casinos there to publish return-to-player percentages.)

Like most Vegas-style casinos, Wind Creek Casinos & Hotel Wetumpka has a robust set of promotions where they award players with rebates, free spins, cars, and travel.

Wind Creek Casino in Alabama

Their rewards program is called Wind Creek Rewards. It’s not much different from any other slots club – you can earn “free” food, hotel stays, and concert tickets based on how much time and money you spend gambling there.

They also claim on their website that this is the “most generous” rewards program in the Southeast – more marketing-speak.

They also have a full-service hotel and a Starbucks on site as well as a spa.

Will Alabama Have a Lottery Soon, Too?

In March, 2020, one of Alabama’s legislator’s put forth a lottery bill. This new law would create a paper-based lottery. The plan is for the funds to go toward Alabama’s pre-kindergarten program and toward a college scholarship program. A tiny percentage of the funds would also be allocated toward problem gambling programs.

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Why doesn’t Alabama have a lottery yet? You can blame the Poarch Band of Creek Indians who operate the casinos and racinos in the state. They don’t want competition for their gambling machines. There’s also constant legal wrangling about what is and isn’t legal as it relates to tribal gaming in the state.

The lottery bill will need 63 votes to pass, but it has at least 70 co-sponsors. It looks likely to pass if it ever comes up for a vote, but there’s no telling when that might be. At one time, they were anticipating a vote by the end of 2020, but that’s uncertain.

Conclusion

Alabama gambling is not exactly on the same level as a state like Nevada or even Oklahoma.

But if you want to gamble there, you can find gambling machines in a few locations operated by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. Or you can gamble at Victoryland.

You’re limited to Class II gambling machines at these locations, though – you can’t participate in any kind of table games at any of the gambling halls in Alabama.

But you can bet on dog races and horse races at the racino there.

What the impending lottery will do to the business model of these casinos is a question yet to be answered, but since 44 states – including many that have a lottery – offer both the lottery and casinos, I don’t think Alabama needs to worry about their casinos going bankrupt because of the lottery.