Alabama Gambling boss' trial to determine if he's a winner

By Phillip Rawls

Associated Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) -- Gambling magnate Milton McGregor enticed customers for years with the advertising slogan "You can be a winner, too."

These days, McGregor is on a losing streak.

He suspended live racing at his Macon County dog track last month after years of dwindling betting there and his Birmingham dog track.

His VictoryLand casino in Macon County, once the state's largest, is closed.

And he's the focal point in a government corruption trial that could send the 72-year-old grandfather to prison for the rest of his life.

McGregor is counting on a team of some of the state's best lawyers to make sure that doesn't happen.

"The jury is going to find not guilty," defense attorney Joe Espy predicted confidently at the end of the first week of the trial.

Besides McGregor, on trial are two of his lobbyists, four present and former state senators, and two others on bribery, fraud and conspiracy charges. They are accused of buying and selling votes on legislation designed to keep McGregor's electronic bingo casino and others operating.

In opening arguments last week, Espy described McGregor as the son of a widow who ran a small town grocery. He attended Troy University and Auburn University and worked in Huntsville before finding success in southeast Alabama at the start of the video game craze by supplying games to businesses.

In 1984, he opened his Macon County dog track, creating hundreds of badly needed jobs in the economically depressed county 15 miles east of Montgomery. Among those who helped him get started was Paul Bryant Jr., son of legendary Alabama football coach Paul "Bear" Byrant.

In 1991, McGregor acquired the failed horse track in Birmingham and revived it to race dogs.

Everything went fine until Mississippi got full-fledged casinos and Alabama's Poarch Creek Indians opened electronic bingo casinos. Attendance started declining at his tracks. To compete, McGregor built an electronic bingo casino next door to his Macon County dog track.

His VictoryLand complex boomed and McGregor's business holdings grew far beyond gambling.

He became a director and the second largest stockholder in Colonial Bank. But he was a big loser when Colonial became the nation's largest bank failure of 2009.

In early 2010, Gov. Bob Riley's gambling task force targeted McGregor's games as illegal slots and forced his casino to close.

Prosecutor Justin Shur said McGregor made millions at VictoryLand during its glory days, but he stood to make hundreds of millions if he could keep his gambling machines. That's why Shur alleges McGregor was willing to offer millions to buy the votes of legislators.

"This case is about two things. It's about corruption. It's about greed," he said.

To back up his case, Shur plans to bring in three present and former legislators who wore recording devices for the FBI during its investigation of Statehouse corruption. The first, Republican state Sen. Scott Beason of Gardendale, is due on the witness stand Monday morning.

Throughout the first week of the trial, McGregor sat somberly behind his lawyers in federal court. But on Friday, he got a grin as big as the ones he always sported when reciting his slogan in TV ads.

It occurred when Shur, the prosecutor, told the jury about the tape recordings. He said the jury will hear the participants discuss their strategy and money, but he warned, "You are not going to hear anyone say, 'I am now offering you a bribe,' because that is not how people talk."

One of McGregor's attorneys seized on the comment. "There are no bribes on any tapes because there aren't any bribes," Espy told the jury.

Published: Thu, Jun 16, 2011

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