When Congress returns from its summer recess on Sept. 9, the 2019 congressional calendar shows U.S. senators have 53 working days scheduled for the remainder of the year before it’s set to adjourn on Dec. 13. (Just in case you were wondering, there are 114 days left in 2019). That’s not a lot of time to get legislation approved and on the president’s desk to be signed into law.
It’s been a long time coming, but the House of Representatives finally approved House Resolution 759, the Equal and Fair Opportunity Act of 2019, after a 40-minute debate on July 24. Filed by Rep. Brian Babin (R-Woodville), HR 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.
The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act is the federal law that regulates Indian gaming throughout the United States.
We say finally because Babin introduced similar legislation during the 2017-18 congressional session. Before that, the measure was proposed by Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) and Sen. Jon Tester (D-Montana) during the 2015-16 session, by Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas) and Tester during the 2013-14 session and by Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nevada) during the 2011-12 session. That’s nine, going on 10, years.
None of those previous proposals ever got beyond a hearing before the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs.
“Congressman Brian Babin is a champion of our Tribe and continues to display tremendous leadership in advancing his legislation to clarify the right of our tribe to offer electronic bingo at the Naskila Gaming facility on our reservation in Deep East Texas,” said Cecilia Flores, the Alabama-Coushatta Tribal Council chairwoman.
The fight about gaming between tribal leaders and the state has spanned decades. The latest dispute dates to August 2016, when Texas filed suit, asking a federal court to rule that the Tribe cannot offer gaming and to hold the Tribe in contempt for violating a 2002 permanent injunction barring gaming or gambling that violates state law.
The tribe’s position is that Naskila is not a casino under federal law because it only operates electronic bingo machines. Bingo is legal in Texas for certain licensed organizations.
Now Flores said the Tribe hope to see the same level of support from Texas Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, both Republicans. Flores said Cornyn assured her that if the bill passed in the House, it would have his support in the Senate.
The Tribe is also trying to foster a relationship with Gov. Greg Abbott and get him to the reservation to tour the facility, Flores said. He was amenable to the idea of a tour, and Flores hopes he decides to come out to see what the facility offers, she said.
Many municipalities in Deep East Texas have voiced support for the Tribe’s efforts. 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.
The Tribe is the third largest employer in Polk County and provides more than 500 direct and indirect jobs while injecting $139 million into the region’s economy. That’s significant, for both the Tribe and everyone else in Deep East Texas.