But the buses stopped coming, the operators of Piedmont Bingo saying business had declined too much to keep the doors open. The facility closed in 2010. Two broken wooden pallets sit in the middle of the vast empty lot.
Now, a group is considering plans that might bring those tour buses back, switching the traditional paper bingo cards for electronic sweepstakes machines. But the bus drivers might want to leave their engines running: Local law enforcement officials say the machines are illegal, and would likely be seized as quickly as they’re turned on.
Birmingham-based National Promotions installed hundreds of the machines earlier this month in a facility near Glencoe and the Silver Lakes golf course in northern Calhoun County.
Calhoun County District Attorney Brian McVeigh says the machines are illegal, and that after a thorough investigation, he expects to shut National Promotions down.
Who exactly is behind the gaming operations in northern Calhoun County and any potential gaming at the Piedmont site is something of a mystery.
National Promotions’ website, winandbid.com, lists the Piedmont bingo hall as a retail site for the business.
The Internet domain name winandbid.com is registered to Promotions LLC, and an email address included with the registration was the same as one listed on a job-search website as belonging to a man named Chad Dickie.
According to a 2009 news story by Montgomery television station WSFA, Chad Dickie was the general manager of the White Hall Gaming Center in Lowndes County, which was closed in 2009 by former Gov. Bob Riley’s task force on illegal gambling.
The telephone number listed for National Promotions is also listed for Piedmont Bingo on several bingo websites.
A man who answered a telephone number listed for a Chad Dickie on Thursday at first identified himself as Dickie, but when a reporter then identified himself and asked about Dickie’s involvement with National Promotions, the man said, “No, this is Fred, I’m sorry.”
The man then provided a number for Chase Buxton, who he said works for National Promotions. When pressed about the fact that he had answered the phone as Chad Dickie, the man said, “It doesn’t matter who I am,” then hung up.
Reached by phone, Buxton said that Chad Dickie is the assistant of operations at National Promotions and that he, Buxton, is the owner and manager of the company. In a later conversation Buxton said he was told not to speak to the reporter and referred questions to an attorney, Jack Draper.
Draper said Friday that he could not give the identities of the owners of National Promotions because it was a matter of private contract.
Records for National Promotions LLC at the website of the Alabama Secretary of State’s office show that the first steps to organize the company were taken in February. No other information about the company was available online last week.
As for the Piedmont building itself, information is a little easier to come by. Calhoun County records list Craig Potts as owner of the bingo hall. An Arizona resident, Potts was until 2005 the CEO of Cash Systems Inc., a company that provided ATMs to casinos. Potts is quoted in a 2011 article in the Concord (N.H.) Monitor as saying he owns gaming facilities in the Turks and Caicos and a casino in New Hampshire called The Lodge at Belmont.
In 2008 Potts was acquitted in federal court on 26 charges that he had tried to bribe the leaders of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe tribe, which operates casinos in Minnesota.
Repeated attempts last week to reach Potts were unsuccessful.
Piedmont Mayor Brian Young said Thursday that he has not heard from anyone wishing to move the electronic sweepstakes machines into Piedmont since Draper, the attorney, approached the city in August 2011. At that 2011 City Council meeting, Draper said he represented the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter No. 502, the operators of paper bingo games at the Piedmont bingo hall at that time. The VVA had stopped its bingo games in Piedmont the prior year and were looking to restart.
The Alabama Constitution requires that a portion of all proceeds from paper bingo gaming go to charities, such as the Vietnam veterans group.
The Piedmont bingo hall operated traditional paper bingo games until it closed in December of 2010.
Ken Rollins, president of VVA Chapter No. 502, said Thursday that his organization only ever planned to offer paper bingo games, and that the electronic sweepstakes machines were planned by another group. Rollins said he did not know who the members of the group were, but that Draper also represented them.
Rollins said his organization has nothing to do with National Promotions, and that the only game VVA ran was traditional paper bingo.
Draper explained to the Piedmont Council last year that if the electronic sweepstakes machines were seized under order of the district attorney, he would then file a judgment to have the machines’ legality tested in court.
Draper has the same plans for the sweepstakes facility in northern Calhoun County, telling The Star Thursday that he would sue if the business near Glencoe was shut down. Draper has said his plan is to prove the legality of the electronic sweepstakes machines in court.
Star staff writer Eddie Burkhalter: 256-235-3563. On Twitter @EBurkhalter_Star.