May 19, 2016 Updated: May 19, 2016 12:42pm
LIVINGSTON, Texas (AP) — Feel like gambling?
Now you can head to East Texas where, on a more than 10,000-acre Indian reservation south of Livingston, is a casino-style gaming facility that opened this week.
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram (http://bit.ly/1RbnEQN ) reports it’s called Naskila Entertainment. The newly revamped facility — which comes 14 years after a previous tribal casino-like venue had to close — offers a restaurant and 365 devices that look, act and sound like slot machines but are actually electronic bingo machines.
“We are very proud to offer a safe, secure entertainment venue to the Big Thicket region,” said Jo Ann Battise, chair of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas Tribal Council.
Tribal officials say they are now holding a soft opening of the facility, which opened its doors for gaming on Tuesday, and will hold a grand opening June 2, after all the kinks of the new facility are worked out.
They don’t call it a casino, but acknowledge that their machines, like others on Indian reservations, are designed to look like traditional slot machines found in Las Vegas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and elsewhere. They have similar bells, whistles and designs. But the machines in some form or fashion show or run bingo patterns with every spin.
They say the venue, about 240 miles southeast of Fort Worth, is legal because last year the U.S. Department of Interior and the National Indian Gaming Commission ruled that the tribe can operate games on its reservation, just as the Tigua Indians can on the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo reservation near El Paso.
A previous casino-style venue on this same spot — which generated about $1 million a month when it was opened, numbers leaders hope they can match or beat this time around — closed after the tribe lost legal fights with Texas officials, who said state law trumped national Indian law and casino gambling wasn’t allowed in Texas.
This is the latest development in a more than decade-old legal battle pitting national Indian law that maintains that tribes are sovereign nations and may operate casinos on their reservations against state law preventing an expansion of gambling in Texas.
The Alabama-Coushatta tribe, which has about 1,200 members, is using the same building previously used for the casino-like gaming about 17 miles east of the city of Livingston on U.S. Highway 190.
Workers have spent the past few months revamping the building, replacing the carpet, upgrading electrical and plumbing and making more improvements. They also built a new restaurant, called Timbers Grille.
The alcohol-free 15,000-square-foot facility, which will employ about 200 workers, offers smoking and non-smoking sections and is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, officials say.
The site’s gambling options are technically classified as Class II gaming, which allows electronic bingo — which comes in many shapes and forms — but does not allow full-blown casino gaming.
In the past, the building had a capacity of about 500 people and long lines often stretched out the door as people waited to go inside and play the games. The building now has the capacity to hold 777 people.
Most of the games there are nickel or dime machines, although there’s a “high-roller” wall that offers $2 and $5 machines.
“It is significant for the Tribe because this economic development project will provide over 200 quality jobs for East Texans and provide much needed financial support for essential tribal government programs and services,” Battise said.
There is another casino-style facility on Indian tribal land open in Texas, a state that has long fought against an expansion of gambling.
While the Alabama-Coushatta and Tigua tribes have been fighting with the state to allow gaming, the Kickapoo tribe has operated the Lucky Eagle Casino in Eagle Pass since 1996. It features more than 3,300 machines, as well as a private poker room and a high-limit gaming area.
The difference has long been the tribes’ legal standing.
The Alabama-Coushatta and Tigua tribes gained federal recognition in 1987, at a time when the law stated that tribes can’t do anything the rest of the citizens of the state can’t do — such as gamble.
The Kickapoo tribe gained recognition earlier, when the same condition was not in place.
So the Kickapoo tribe moved forward with a casino and when Texas expanded gaming beyond charitable bingo, to allow the lottery and pari-mutuel gambling, the other tribes pushed for more opportunities.
The Alabama-Coushatta and Tigua tribes opened casino-like facilities that proved extremely successful until they were ordered closed by a U.S. District judge in 2002.
They continued to push to reopen as tribes in nearby states opened casinos that have flourished, such as the Chickasaw Nation’s WinStar World Casino and Resort in Oklahoma.
Tribal officials in Texas now believe they have the legal footing they need to move forward since the recent ruling says they have the right to run Class II gaming — generally bingo and electronic versions of bingo — under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.
The Indian gaming commission will regulate this facility, officials say.
At the same time, the tribe is keeping Texas officials updated about the development at the Livingston facility.
“We have made certain to stay in communication with state attorneys and let them know what we are doing,” said Chuck McDonald, spokesman for Naskila Entertainment. “We respect the state’s role in this.”
Information from: Fort Worth Star-Telegram, http://www.star-telegram.com
This is an AP Member Exchange shared by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram