Texas Tribe Says Sen. John Cornyn Request to Delay Casino Bill Hearings Prioritizes Politics Over Equality

Posted on: October 20, 2019, 01:00h. 

Last updated on: October 18, 2019, 03:31h.

A Texas tribe is firing back at Senator John Cornyn’s (R) efforts in DC to delay hearings regarding legislation that would give two federally recognized Native American groups gaming rights in the Lone Star State.

Texas casino tribal gaming John Cornyn
Texas Sen. John Cornyn wants his Senate chamber to postpone hearings on legislation that would give two tribes he represents in DC gaming rights. (Image: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

HR 759 – the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo and Alabama-Coushatta Tribes of Texas Equal and Fair Opportunity Settlement Act – passed the US House of Representatives in July. The legislation, introduced by Rep. Brian Babin (R-Texas), seeks to give the two tribes full rights under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) of 1988.

The two tribes have been targeted by officials in Texas over their gaming privileges.

“Texas Governor Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, and Attorney General Ken Paxton have concerns with this legislation because current federal law prohibits gambling on tribal lands unless authorized by the State of Texas,” Cornyn wrote the US Senate Indian Affairs Committee. All three state officials he mentioned are Republicans.

Under Texas law, most forms of gambling are prohibited, including on Ysleta del Sur Pueblo and Alabama-Coushatta tribal lands,” Texas’ senior Senator added.

Cornyn requested, “In light of these legal and policy disagreements between the Texas state government and these tribes, I request any committee hearings concerning this legislation be postponed until these parties have reached a resolution or agreement.”

Legal Backstory

The Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas has been operating a Class II gaming facility in Livingston since May 2016. Paxton argues it’s in violation of state law, and has imposed a $10,000 per day penalty on the tribe – an amount that is now upwards of $12.4 million.

Here’s where the controversy stems: in August 1987, the two tribes agreed to Congress’ Ysleta del Sur Pueblo and Alabama-Coushatta Indian Tribes of Texas Restoration Act. The bill restored their federal recognition and sovereignty, but provided that: “All gaming activities which are prohibited by the laws of the State of Texas are hereby prohibited on the reservation and on lands of the tribe.”

A year later, IGRA was passed and gave all federally recognized tribes the right to operate Class I and II gaming on their sovereign land. Class III gaming – full-scale casinos with slot machines and table games – requires state approval through a gaming compact.

Texas’ only other federally recognized tribe – the Kickapoo Traditional Native Americans – were recognized in 1985, but were not bound with a no-gaming clause. The tribe has operated the Class II Lucky Eagle Casino for more than two decades.  

Tribe Response

HR 759 seeks to level the playing field and allow the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo and Alabama-Coushatta tribes the same gaming immunity as the Kickapoos.

Senator Cornyn’s letter represents the latest in a series of delays by some Texas elected officials, who appear to be prioritizing politics over equality for the state’s Native American tribes, as well as jobs and economic growth in East Texas,” Alabama-Coushatta Chairwoman Cecilia Flores said.

“We are a federally recognized tribe with sovereign rights, and we would like to assert those sovereign rights,” she concluded.