El Paso’s Tigua Pueblo Tribe Ordered to Shutter Speaking Rock Casino, Ops Ruled Illegal Under Texas Law

Posted on: February 19, 2019, 03:10h. 

Last updated on: February 19, 2019, 03:03h.

The Ysleta del Sur Pueblo tribe — also known the Tigua Pueblo — has been dealt a body blow in its 25-year battle with the State of Texas over its right to operate casino-style gaming on its El Paso reservation, Texas Monthly reports.

Speaking Rock
The Speaking Rock Entertainment Center in southeast El Paso has been the subject of a 25-year legal battle between the Tigua Tribe and the State of Texas. Has the latter finally triumphed? (Image: Speaking Rock)

On Thursday, US District Judge Philip Martinez issued an injunction to halt casino operations, ruling that the class II bingo and gaming machines at the tribe’s Speaking Rock Casino were illegal under Texas law.

But Martinez highlighted one path still open to the tribe: appeal to Congress to have the law that recognized its sovereign status changed.

“The court is cognizant that an injunction will have a substantial impact on the pueblo community,” Martinez wrote. “Accordingly, the court joins the refrain of judges who have urged the tribes bound by the Restoration Act (1987) to petition Congress to modify or replace the Restoration Act if they would like to conduct gaming on the reservation.”

Cruel Twist of Fate

The tribe was granted federal recognition in 1987, along with the Alabama-Coushatta, also of Texas. But the act that granted these two tribes sovereign land did so under the provision that “gambling, lottery, or bingo, as defined by Texas’ laws, on the tribe’s reservation and on tribal lands” would be prohibited.

The timing was brutal. A year later, Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), which paved the way for the tribal gaming industry as we know it today.

Both tribes have been engaged in decades-long legal battles with the state to hold onto their modest gaming facilities. In contrast, the Kickapoo Tribe of Texas — recognized just two years earlier, in 1985 — has been permitted to operate its own gaming operations on the Rio Grande border with Mexico with impunity for 20 years because it is not bound by a no-gaming clause.

The Tigua and the Alabama-Coushatta have argued that they were coerced into agreeing to the Restoration Act because some members of Congress threatened to block the passage of the act unless they accepted to the no-gaming provision.

Abramoff Fraud

Speaking Rock was first ordered to close in 2002 after lengthy court battles, but that ruling declared the facility could offer games that were legal in Texas, such as bingo. The Tigua reopened the property with slot-machine style games which the tribe argued were sweepstakes or bingo games that were compliant with state law.

It is these games — along with the high-stakes bingo games conducted at Speaking Rock — that the court declared to be illegal last week.

Back in 2002, the tribe was defrauded by notorious lobbyist Jack Abramoff of $4.2 million. Abramoff told the tribe he could get Congress to approve their gaming operations, but at the same time he was also lobbying Texas lawmakers to oppose Tigua gaming. He was sentenced to six years in prison for scamming the Tigua, along with several other Native American tribes, serving 43 months.

Texas Monthly reports that the Speaking Rock remained open on Friday, but the future of its operations is deeply uncertain.