Isn't there already Indian Gaming in Texas?
Yes, but only for one of the three federally recognized tribes. The Kickapoo Tribe in Eagle Pass is allowed to offer only Class II gaming on its reservation. The Alabama -Coushatta Tribe petitioned the Department of Interior to grant that the Restoration Act allows Class II gaming on tribal lands held in trust prior to 1988. After a lengthy set of conversations with the DOI’s Bureau of Indian Affairs, the petition was answered in the affirmative.
Are the Alabama-Coushatta operating a casino?
No. The Alabama-Coushatta’s entertainment venue, Naskila Gaming, is only offering Class II gaming in the form of electronic bingo. Under federal law, Class II gaming is bingo and games associated with bingo. Further, federal law permits the playing of bingo with the aid of computer enhancements. Therefore, tribes may legally offer bingo played on a video terminal. including bingo played electronically. A tribe may offer bingo so long as the tribe is located in a state that permits bingo for any purpose, by any person, organization or entity.
What’s to prevent Indian gaming operations from popping up in major cities and dozens of locations around the state?
The Department of Interior is very specific. Class II gaming will only be allowed on Texas tribal lands owned prior to 1988. This gaming will be confined to the reservations of the three federally recognized tribes.
Is the State of Texas challenging gaming on Tribal lands?
Yes. The State of Texas filed a legal challenge to Naskila Gaming. The Attorney General of the State of Texas has asked a Federal District Court to find that under the Tribe’s Restoration Act of 1987, the Alabama-Coushatta cannot offer gaming under the Indian Gaming Regulation Act (IGRA), passed in 1988. If the Court ultimately agrees with the State’s position, the State further asks the Court to issue an injunction prohibiting the Tribe from gaming under IGRA. The Tribe is confident that the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) determination that the Alabama-Coushatta may legally offer Class II bingo pursuant to IGRA is binding and proper; and the Tribe fully anticipates that the Court will agree with its position. A trial schedule has been set, and the case will be heard in federal court in 2017.
Won’t this compete with charitable bingo that is allowed in Texas for low stake prizes up to $500?
The Alabama-Coushatta bingo operation epitomizes the very essence of what charitable bingo could be. The tribe is a fully functioning government with health and educational services and affordable housing. However, unlike counties and cities, they do not generate revenue from property tax because the land belongs to the reservation. The revenue sources, other than federal grants, have varied through the years, they have some oil and gas leases, some income from timber and small retail operations. The revenue from the bingo operation would go to provide the Alabama-Coushatta with a self-sustaining economy that raises the standard of living for tribal families.
Will Nasikla Gaming remain open during the legal proceedings?
Yes. The Alabama-Coushatta will continue to operate the Naskila Gaming facility. The state may be seeking a permanent closure, but until there is a court ruling affirming the state’s allegations, the Alabama-Coushatta will continue to operate the facility. Prior to Naskila’s opening, Tribal Council directed the Tribal Attorneys to begin communicating with the Texas Attorney General’s Office and a Pre-Litigation Agreement between the Tribe and the Attorney General’s Office was reached which will allow Naskila Gaming to remain open during court proceedings. This is not the same legal case it was in 2001-2002. The Alabama-Coushatta are now operating the bingo gaming facility pursuant to federal authorization similar to Tribes all over the country. The bingo revenue derived from Naskila Gaming is providing much needed funding for vital Tribal government programs.
Update on Legal Challenge by the State of Texas
On February 6, 2018 the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas upheld the state’s claim that a 1994 Fifth Circuit decision stands for the proposition that the Tribe is not included under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). However, Judge Keith Giblin noted in his opinion that the Tribe is “bearing the brunt of a conflicting [federal] statutory scheme, the result of which is arguably undesirable to its interests, and, many would say, unjust.”
Bingo is legal in the state of Texas and the Traditional Kickapoo Tribe of Texas has offered electronic bingo under IGRA since 1996 without objection from the state. “There is no justification for a federal regulatory system that allows one tribe to offer gaming and forbids another from doing so, but that is the situation we have in Texas today,” said Jo Ann Battise, 2018 Tribal Chairperson for the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe.
“We are confident that Congress will act quickly to address the inconsistencies in how Indian tribes are treated regarding gaming. We are very grateful to have our Congressman taking the lead to enact legislation that will clarify this conflicting federal regulatory scheme and end the threat from the state once and for all,” Battise added further.
“Naskila Gaming has been a blessing to our Tribe and to the 330 full time employees of Naskila, sixty percent of who are non-tribal members, who have good paying jobs with healthcare benefits. Naskila’s annual payroll, including salaries and benefits, is $16.8 million. We have been fighting to stay open and protect these jobs since the state first filed the suit against us and we will continue to fight this injustice. We have been overwhelmed by the patronage and support of Naskila Gaming from visitors throughout the state. It has emerged as a significant contributor to the Deep East Texas economy. We are grateful that Congressman Babin is working overtime to protect these Deep East Texas jobs and believe other members of the Texas Congressional delegation will join in this effort,” Battise concluded.
On February 6, 2018 the Tribe issued the following statement
Statement from Jo Ann Battise, Alabama-Coushatta Tribal Council Chairperson, regarding today’s ruling by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern Division of Texas in the case of the State of Texas v. Alabama-Coushatta Tribe (case number 9:01-cv-00299).
“We are very disappointed with the ruling issued by the U.S. Federal District Court today. The Alabama-Coushatta Tribe remains confident in its legal position and has already filed a Notice of Appeal. The Tribe has also filed a Motion with the Court requesting the ability to stay open pending the appeal process in order to protect the 330 jobs that the Tribe provides as the third largest employer in Polk County. These jobs represent an annual payroll and benefits of almost $17 million dollars, they significantly contribute to the economies of Polk and Tyler Counties, and are vital to the greater Deep East Texas economy.”
Judge Keith F. Giblin noted in his Opinion that the Tribe is “bearing the brunt of a conflicting statutory scheme, the result of which is arguably undesirable to its interests and, many would say, unjust.”
“The conflicting regulatory scheme is unjust. We will continue to fight this injustice by working closely with our elected officials,” said Battise.
The Tribe’s Legal Position is Strong
In 2015, the Tribe sought and secured the NIGC’s formal determination that the Tribe could offer Class II bingo on its tribal lands. As required by IGRA, the Tribe passed a Class II gaming ordinance, and the Tribe submitted it to the NIGC. The NIGC determined that IGRA applied to the Tribe and approved the Tribe’s gaming ordinance.
Aware that the State might take the position that the Tribe’s 1987 Restoration Act did not permit the Tribe to offer gaming under IGRA, the Tribe informed the State that they had received NIGC approval and that the Tribe was taking the necessary steps to offer Class II bingo. The Tribe and State then negotiated an agreement to permit the Tribe to operate Naskila pending a Court’s review. of the NIGC’s decision that IGRA applied to the Tribe and that the Tribe can legally offer Class II bingo on its trust lands.