Alabama gambling magnate Milton McGregor dies at age 78

MarketsAssociated Press

Alabama gambling magnate Milton McGregor, who waged a legal war to keep his electronic bingo casino open and thwarted federal attempts to prosecute him, died Sunday. He was 78.

Public relations firm Direct Communications said McGregor died peacefully in his home in Montgomery.

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An affable and charming fixture of the state's business and political worlds, he advertised his casino with the slogan, which he drawled in Southern baritone, "Come join us... you can be a winner too."

His business interests included banking and nursing homes, but he was best known for developing a dog track-turned-casino in the Bible Belt state. The operation at one point boasted 6,400 electronic gambling machines, more than many Las Vegas casinos.

Raised the son of a widow who ran a small town grocery, McGregor began finding success in the 1980s at the start of the video game craze, with an arcade and a business leasing the games. He opened VictoryLand dog track casino in Macon County in 1984 and later acquired a defunct horse track in Birmingham for dog racing.

He then bet big on electronic bingo.

Alabama law allows bingo in some locations, including Macon County. McGregor invested millions of dollars in a VictoryLand expansion, filling it with machines that played lightning quick games of bingo electronically, but on the outside replicated the experience of playing a slot machine with whirling displays and chimes.

He added a swanky 300-room adjacent hotel and restaurants in an attempt to compete with neighboring Mississippi casinos. Macon County politicians praised McGregor for bringing jobs to the economically depressed county.

But not everyone in the conservative state was pleased by his efforts.

The state launched a still ongoing effort to close the casino, saying the slot machine-like games were illegal and not what was intended by the state laws allowing bingo.

McGregor came out on the winning side of a high-profile government corruption case in 2012.

Federal prosecutors in 2010 indicted McGregor, another casino developer, lobbyists and politicians on charges that they orchestrated a scheme to buy votes at the Alabama State House for gambling legislation. Prosecutors said McGregor was trying to ensure the continued operation of the casino that they said profited $40 million in a single year.

A first trial ended with a hung jury. A second jury acquitted McGregor of all charges, and McGregor reopened the casino.

"Now I'm focused on getting 3,000 people back to work and charities and governmental agencies receiving revenue, as they should have been all the time," McGregor told The Associated Press after his acquittal.

McGregor is survived by his wife, two daughters and seven grandchildren.