In the long-simmering legal battle between the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe and the State of Texas, nobody is backing down. And despite losing a key ruling in February, a judge has now allowed the tribe to appeal that decision, which will affect the future of its Naskila Gaming facility on the tribal reservation north of Houston.
On one side, the tribe contends it has the right to operate certain games on its territory, which is considered sovereign. On the other, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton not only wants to see the electronic bingo gaming center shut down, but also wants to fine the tribe $10,000 for every day it’s been in operation since May of 2016, which would amount to somewhere in the neighborhood of $7.2 million in penalties.
With an average of 2,500 daily visitors to the gaming venue and estimated $16.8 million in wages and benefits paid to the Naskila employees annually, it’s not a battle the reservation plans on giving up without a serious fight.
Exactly how much of the $31.2 billion in national tribal gaming revenues is earned by the Alabama-Coushatta isn’t known, but it’s enough that the group is willing to do whatever it takes to keep the casino open, according to the Houston Chronicle.
“We plan to fight this,” Tribal Council Chairperson Jo Ann Battise told the local news site. “We plan to fight it because we know we are right.”
The tribe’s position is that it is following federal legislation by operating the facility on a “Class II” license. That authorizes their casino in states like Texas, which allow bingo only. And bingo, the tribe says, is what is being offered.
While Naskila Gaming has 793 units that look and sound like slot machines, they’re essentially bingo games, and in the tribe’s legal opinion, that makes it alright. State prosecutors see it differently. They’re not concerned with what is allowed in other states, only with what’s taking place in Texas, and they assert that no class of casino is allowable on the reservation.
Prosecutors won a key round in the battle earlier in February when a federal judge ruled that the facility “does not comply with the gaming laws and regulations of Texas.”
But the war isn’t over yet.
Instead of going straight to a trial to see if the venue should be shut down, Magistrate Keith Giblin has now decided that the tribe has a strong enough argument to postpone that hearing and allow the appeal to play out first.
The tribe has posted notices to visitors to voice their support for the facility, as well as created a website, supportnaskila.com, where proponents can back the appeal.
More significantly, the Alabama-Coushatta has allies at the state level, as Republican Representative Brian Babin, along with two other conservative co-sponsors, are endorsing a bill which could potentially allow Naskila Gaming to continue operating.
“This is a fairness issue, as this bill would ensure the Alabama-Coushatta tribe receives the same treatment that the federal government extends to other tribes,” Babin told the Houston Chronicle.
The National Indian Gaming Commission has also thrown its support behind the tribe in the past, although the federal agency has taken no official stance in this lawsuit.
No specific date has been announced for when the appeal will be heard by the federal court .