US House Passes Bill That Would Allow Texas Tribes to Offer Gaming

Posted on: July 26, 2019, 08:39h. 

Last updated on: July 27, 2019, 12:32h.

A bipartisan bill backing the right of two tribes to offer gaming operations in Texas was passed by the US House of Representatives Wednesday.

US Rep. Will Hurd said Texas had fallen short in its efforts to provide “true economic stability to our Native American tribes” and called for “fair treatment under the law” for the Tigua and Alabama-Coushatta. (Image: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc.)

The Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo (Tigua) and Alabama-Coushatta tribes have for years been fighting a battle with the Lone Star State, which wants to shut down their modest class II gaming facilities, while a separate tribe has been permitted to run its own operations with impunity for the last 20 years.

In January, US Reps. Will Hurd (R-TX) and Brian Babin (R-TX) introduced the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo and Alabama-Coushatta Tribes of Texas Equal and Fair Opportunity Settlement Act in a bid to redress the balance, bringing the tribes “overdue justice and fair treatment under law.”

Hamstrung by Non-Gaming Clause

The bill appeared shortly after the Alabama-Coushatta lost a key legal battle to keep its Naskila gaming hall open in Livingston. The hall is currently in operation, but Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is demanding a $10,000 penalty for each day it has remained open since May 2016 – which now is well over $10 million and counting.

Meanwhile, the Tigua opened the Speaking Rock Entertainment Center in El Paso in 1993, but it was shut down by the state. In 2015, a court ruling and endorsement by the US Interior Department determined the casino should have never been closed and that the Tigua had the right to offer gaming under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act IGRA.

The tribe brought the bingo machines back in, reopening in 2016, but in March a Texas judge issued an injunction to halt all gaming operations, ruling they were illegal under Texas law.

Generally speaking, under IGRA, federally recognized tribes are permitted to offer class II gaming, largely bingo machines, on their reservations without permission from the state.

The Alabama-Coushatta and the Tigua were recognized in 1987 by the federal Yselta del Sur Pueblo and Alabama and Coushatta Indian Tribes of Texas Restoration Act, just a year before the enactment of IGRA. But a non-gaming clause was inserted into the act.

By contrast, the Kickapoo tribe, recognized just two years earlier, were not bound by a non-gaming clause, and have run the Lucky Eagle Casino in Eagle Pass free from interference from the state.

Just Bingo

“The Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo are the oldest community in the State of Texas, claiming a governing body since 1682,” said Rep. Hurd, addressing the House floor Wednesday. “During the Texas Revolution it was the Alabama-Coushatta of East Texas who provided refuge, food and medicine to the great Sam Houston and his army. Their story is sewn into the fabric of Texas’ history.

“This bill isn’t about gambling. It’s about letting two tribes in two of Texas’ most economically distressed zones engage in what every other tribe in America engages in,” he added. “This bill would allow these two tribes in Texas to do bingo. That’s it. Not blackjack. Not poker. Not Craps. Just Bingo.”