LUFKIN DAILY NEWS
by Steve Knight
November 30, 2016
The Native American tribe once praised by Sam Houston for remaining neutral during Texas’ struggle for independence is now fighting a battle with the state for what tribal leaders say is their right to operate gaming on their East Texas reservation.
Naskila Gaming, an alcohol-free operation in a renovated facility on the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe’s 10,200-acre reservation east of Livingston, opened for business in May.
The facility features 365 electronic bingo machines and a restaurant. The facility also contains the Seven Feathers Circle Players Club, which includes free membership and benefits.
However, the state filed a legal action in August asking a federal court to find that the tribe cannot offer gaming and hold the tribe in contempt for violating a 2002 permanent injunction barring gaming or gambling that violates state law on its reservation.
Texas law allows nonprofit organizations and other community groups to operate bingo games under specific conditions with a license from the Charitable Bingo Operations Division of the Texas Lottery Commission.
During the weekly meeting of the Lufkin Host Lions Club on Tuesday, tribal spokesman Carlos Bullock told members the tribe’s legal position is strong, and they are looking forward to their day in court.
“We are in the legal process,” Bullock said. “We are expecting to see a court date in the middle of next year. We know that the legal resolution is still months away, but we have been allowed to stay open during that time. This is something that we’ve fought long and hard for.”
Prior to the facility’s opening, tribal leaders said they directed attorneys to begin communicating with the Texas Attorney General’s Office and a pre-litigation agreement between the parties was reached, allowing the facility to remain open during court proceedings.
Under federal law, Class II gaming is defined as the game of chance commonly known as bingo, whether or not electronic, computer or other technologic aids are utilized. The National Indian Gaming Commission will regulate Naskila Entertainment’s Class II facility, according to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act and federal regulations, as it does for hundreds of tribes around the country.
The act divides Indian gaming into three classes of gaming. In addition to Class II, Class I is traditional tribal gaming and Class III is commonly recognized as casino-style gaming. Class III gaming is only available to tribes if the state in which the tribe is located agrees to enter into a Tribal-State gaming compact.
The tribe previously operated a casino on its reservation but was forced to shut it down in 2002 after litigation came from the state.
They’ve fought since then to restore the right to operate a facility in a battle pitting national Indian law, which maintains that tribes are sovereign nations, against state law preventing an expansion of gambling in Texas.
That effort paid off when the National Indian Gaming Commission, the federal agency created to regulate Indian gaming, approved the tribe’s Class II Gaming Ordinance last year.
“In 2015, the tribe sought and got authority from the National Indian Gaming Commission, which says that if the state does bingo, you’re allowed to do bingo,” Bullock said. “We’ve used that, and that’s what has helped us move forward.”
Kayleigh Lovvorn, a spokeswoman for the Texas Attorney General’s Office, said in an email that the case involves an important legal issue: whether Restoration Act tribes, such as the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas, may engage in gambling activities that are prohibited to Texans.
“The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has previously held that Restoration Act tribes may not engage in such gambling,” Lovvorn said. “As before, the parties have a disagreement about this issue, and it will be up to the court to issue a decision. The state of Texas is pursuing this lawsuit in order to obtain a legal resolution of this disagreement.”
A provision in the Alabama-Coushatta Restoration Act, signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1987, bars the tribe from engaging in gaming activities prohibited by the state.
For the tribe, the issue is also a matter of self-sufficiency, as the facility provides a revenue stream for services for its 1,000 members. In addition, expenditures by Naskila in developing the facility and paying its 210 employees total about $9.9 million, according to tribal figures through August.
Bullock also said the issue is different than in 2002, as the tribe is operating the facility under federal authorization similar to tribes across the country.
“This is our story,” he said. “This is something that we’re proud of. This is something that we want long-term. This is something we want successful.”
The reservation is 17 miles east of Livingston on U.S. Highway 190.
Steve Knight’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.