Less than a year ago, the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas opened Naskila Entertainment – a gaming centre located about 80 miles northeast of Houston. It’s the second gaming facility opened by the tribe, following the Alabama-Coushatta Entertainment System – a casino that opened in 2000 and was shut in 2002, costing the tribe 300 jobs. The brand new centre has so far created over 400 jobs – including around 200 for the tribe’s 1200 members, and it’s also added $5 million to the local economy, according to Carlos Bullock, a former tribal council chairman.
According to the tribe, it’s their sovereign right to offer Class II gaming – covering games like poker and bingo – as opposed to Class III gaming, which includes casino games like slots and roulette. They cite the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 (IGRA), which permits tribes to operate Class II gaming, such as bingo, on their lands as long as it is legal in any form elsewhere in the state.
The tribe was also recognised in 1987 – a year before the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 was enacted – and had agreed to a prohibition on gaming, which the tribe now calls a “fluke of timing”. The only legal gambling centre in Texas is run by the only other federally recognised tribe in the state – the Kickapoo, who were recognised in 1983 but had no provision regarding gambling. Their centre is located in Eagle Pass, a remote area about 130 miles from San Antonio, near the Texas-Mexico border. All of the US states adjacent to Texas have casinos – a study in 2013 for the Texas Association of Business showed Texans spend about $3 billion a year gambling in these states and elsewhere. The Louisiana Gaming Control Board has noted Houston-area residents made up the majority of customers to Lake Charles, Louisiana, and believe that their casinos “would be hurt by legalised gambling in Texas.” In Oklahoma, American Indian-run casinos draw Texas residents from the Dallas-Fort Worth area away from business in Shreveport and Bossier City in Louisiana. “Obviously if another option that’s closer geographically to folks, they will investigate it,” Wayne Duty, executive director of the Louisiana Casino Association, said. “What we saw in northwest Louisiana when the Native American (Oklahoma) casinos came online, we lost 17 percent of our gross revenue. And frankly, we never recovered that.”
Republican attorney general Ken Paxton is leading this current effort to block the Alabama-Coushatta tribe from continuing to operate the centre, but it’s been an issue since the 1990s, during the term of Democrat Gov. Ann Richards. The Texas constitution bars most forms of gambling and efforts to pose the issue before Texas voters have been unsuccessful. “A lot of the thinking of the right in Texas originates in the more conservative religious denominations, and that is certainly true of the Texas Tea Party, for whom social, cultural, moral issues are primary,” said Robert Biles, a political science professor at Sam Houston State University.
State lawyers point to the 2002 injunction that barred the tribe from offering gaming, but the tribe says that the 365 electronic bingo machines were not covered in the 2002 injunction – only Class III gaming was banned. They also point to the change in law – since 1987, horse and dog track betting, as well as a state lottery, have all become legal in Texas. “The state can change its mind, but we’re held by this resolution,” says Carlos Bullock. A federal court hearing is set for Thursday in Beaumont.
“We are in the fight for our future,” Bullock says. “This is something, a revenue stream, that can help the tribe immensely.”
Sources: Associated Press, Texarkana Gazette, Casino Org
Image: Michael Graczyk, Associated Press