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VictoryLand casino owner, lobbyist Milton McGregor passes away; what next for Macon County? | Auburn

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Longtime gambling supporter and VictoryLand casino owner Milton McGregor died peacefully at his home early Sunday at age 78, according to family and friends of the political mover and shaker in Alabama politics.

Word of his death spread quickly Sunday morning among sources who knew McGregor well, including political columnist and former legislator Steve Flowers.

"Milton McGregor passed away at his home in Montgomery last night," Flowers tweeted. "He was beloved by a lot of Alabamians, including me. I’ll miss my friend."

McGregor was born in Hartford during the Great Depression.

He was well known in Alabama for his political influence and brazen drive to legalize gambling in the state.

His VictoryLand dog-racing track and casino near Tuskegee was both, a source of passionate opposition from gambling opponents and critics, but a source of major income, employment and entertainment for supporters in Macon County.

He also developed the Birmingham Race Course.

Auburn, Macon County impact

McGregor had a profound impact on not just Macon County, but all of the surrounding area, including as a big donor to Auburn University, said Joe Turnham, economic director for the county and former Democratic Party state chairman.

McGregor and his wife in 2008 pledged $1 million as early supporters of building the new Auburn Arena.

We “believe strongly in the Auburn Arena project, which will provide a major boost for the Auburn basketball programs and will benefit Auburn University and the community at large," McGregor said at the time.

Turnham worked with McGregor in economic development, with Auburn fundraising and in state politics.

“Milton had a lot of close friends in the community and leaves many lives that he touched over the course of several generations,” Turnham said.

Asked about the future of Macon County after McGregor’s passing, he said, “His passing leaves a hole for sure, but the leadership in the county over the past decade has developed economic development mechanisms to diversify our economy and lessen future vulnerabilities like what occurred at VictoryLand.

“This is happening in retail, manufacturing and development of workforce readiness, for example,” Turnham said. “We want VictoryLand to continue to be successful, but the county's economic future must address 21st century opportunities like the T-100 Project as well.”

The T-100 project is a bid for the Air Force to build its next generation fighter-jet trainer in Tuskegee at the site where the Tuskegee Airmen trained during World War II. If the Italian-based Leonardo company wins the bid, it could bring 750 new jobs to Macon County and the surrounding area.

“That said, his impact had been enormous,” Turnham said. “The shear investments, payrolls, charitable donations have been immense and impactful over decades. He has a great family and succession in place and I'm sure he was prepared for the next events in his absence.

“On a personal note, I've known Milton for 25 years and always found him to be open, accessible and fair minded. If he was for you, he was for you and if he wasn't, you knew it. But after the vote or election, he was always willing to work together if possible.

“He was generous and engaging,” Turnham said. “He leaves a wonderful family and many friends. He shared our mutual love for Auburn University and all things Macon County.”

McGregor also had his critics and political enemies.

His running battle with anti-gambling forces often led to fierce fights in politics and in court.

A jury in 2012 acquitted McGregor and others on vote-buying charges brought by federal prosecutors, and more recently, McGregor defied state laws regarding the use of slot machines.

VictoryLand, once shuttered and machines seized, reopened later with “look-alike” machines, but the lack of racing and advertising of the casino’s offerings led to business dwindling the past two years.

In a letter published in the St. Clair Times, Don Stephens of Childersburg wrote: “McGregor is a gambler and promotes it as if it is as innocent as a 6-year-old in a beginner Baptist Sunday school class.

“It is true Milton McGregor has not served time in prison. But to put him in the same class as Alabama's top educators, religious leaders and down-to-earth, salt-of-the-earth mothers and fathers who have held fast to the religious, conservative Alabama values is not something I can accept.

“Don't accept the offer for better paying jobs and economic ‘pie in the sky’ while believing that a gambler can deliver that and without consequences.”

Yet admirers of the economic developer such as longtime friend Flowers said McGregor always was mindful of the jobs he created.

"He kept Victoryland going the last five years not for himself but for his employees and the people of Macon County," Flowers said. "He was loyal, benevolent and eternal optimist."

A personal website details McGregor’s history in a biography-style fashion. It includes his early ventures into business.

McGregor moved to Huntsville when he joined Brown Engineering firm in 1964. In 1967 he accepted a job with Boeing, also in Huntsville.

ln 1968, his mother became seriously ill, and he decided to leave Boeing and move back to Hartford to tend to his mother and the family business. She passed away on his return.

 At age 29, McGregor was overseeing the family business and working as a supply superintendent with Northrop Aircraft in Fort Rucker. While at Fort Rucker, he had several business ventures, including McGregor Amusement Company, a video game business, according to his biography.

ln 1981, after 13 years at Fort Rucker, McGregor resigned to engage in the video game business full time. He opened Happy Tymes video arcades in Enterprise, Dothan and Ozark and placed video machines in businesses throughout south Alabama and northwest Florida.

“Owning a dog track was Milton’s dream born out of vacations to Panama City Beach (90 miles south of Hartford) and passing the dog track in Ebro, Florida,” his bio says. The dream came to life when on Aug.  23, 1983, Macon County citizens voted by a 2-to-1 margin to pass a racing bill to help revive the underfunded county and its school system.

That led to the opening of a greyhound racing track and casino in Shorter that he named VictoryLand, which had an immediate impact on Macon County’s employment rate and revenue streams.

ln 1990, horse racing was failing for the second time at the Birmingham Race Course. McGregor bought the horse racing track from AmSouth Bank on Jan. 1, 1992, for $19 million. After garnering legislative approval in November of 1992, Milton spent $9.6 million in construction to make the course the first track in the United States to offer both horse and greyhound racing, his biography reports.

Service announcement pending

McGregor, still active as an entrepreneur and developer in Montgomery at the time of his death, "died peacefully at his home Sunday," a press statement from his publicity firm announced. "Mr. McGregor is survived by his wife of 50 years, Patricia Turner McGregor."

He also is survived by two daughters and seven grandchildren.

Further details of funeral arrangements are expected to be announced soon.

Troy Turner is editor of the Opelika-Auburn News. He can be contacted at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

VictoryLand casino owner, lobbyist Milton McGregor passes away; what next for Macon County? | Auburn

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