The Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas is disappointed that Sen. John Cornyn has asked a Senate committee to postpone hearings on a measure authorizing electronic bingo on its reservation.
“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 said in his letter to the U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee. “Under Texas law, most forms of gambling are prohibited, including on Ysleta del Sur Pueblo and Alabama-Coushatta tribal lands.”
House Resolution 759 protects the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe’s right, under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, to offer electronic bingo at its Naskila Gaming facility on their reservation. The legislation provides the same protections for the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo in El Paso. It was approved by the House of Representatives on July 24 after a 40-minute debate. U.S. Rep. Brian Babin, R-Woodville, introduced the legislation for the 2019-20 session.
The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act is the federal law that regulates Indian gaming throughout the United States.
“This matter is currently the subject of litigation in federal court,” Cornyn said in the letter. “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. I appreciate your consideration of this request.”
Cecilia Flores, the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe’s chairwoman, said Cornyn told her that if the bill passed in the House it would have his support in the Senate.
“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,” Flores said.
There are three federally recognized tribes: the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe, Ysleta del Sur Pueblo in El Paso and Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas in Eagle Pass. The Kickapoo tribe is currently running a similar type of facility without facing the same threat of being closed by the state.
The two other tribes have been stuck between two conflicting pieces of legislation: the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 and Restoration Act of 1987.
While the National Indian Gaming Commission is authorized to enforce the 1988 act, U.S. Magistrate Judge Keith Giblin said that law is superseded by the 1987 act — which requires the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe to follow state law.
“The federal judge said we need a congressional fix,” Flores said. “The language of the Restoration Act is conflicting and the courts realize there are conflicts and stated so in their decision that it needs to be fixed in the Legislature.”
Flores said support for the bill is widespread among East Texas counties and cities, the Deep East Texas Council of Governments and chambers of commerce.
A survey of registered voters indicates that support is statewide:
■ 67% support allowing electronic bingo on the reservation.
■ 64% agree that electronic bingo benefits the overall economy.
■ 65% are in favor of congressional bill to allow electronic bingo.
Naskila Gaming has been open since 2016, and now employs 418 people directly and impacts more than 650 jobs, she said. The alcohol-free facility contributes $150 million to the local economy annually, according to a press release.
“The main thing to think about is the jobs,” Flores said. “People want to work, they want stable jobs, employee benefits, fringe benefits. They see the benefit and want to work.”