San Antonio Express-News
August 16, 2016 Updated: August 16, 2016 6:44pm
A new legal salvo was fired this week in the state’s long-running battle against Indian gambling with a filing in federal court that seeks to close the gaming hall on the Alabama-Coushatta Reservation.
A motion for contempt and injunctive relief was filed Monday by Attorney General Ken Paxton, claiming that the Naskila Entertainment Center, which has offered electronic bingo since reopening in May, violates an existing court injunction.
It asks that the small East Texas tribe be ordered to halt the gaming operation, remove all gaming equipment and pay a civil penalty of $10,000 a day from June 2 until all gaming ceases.
On Tuesday, the log cabin-style hall on the 10,000-acre reservation in the Piney Woods east of Livingston was still open to the gaming public.
“We definitely think we’re in the right. The federal government and the National Indian Gaming Commission gave us the authority, so we think we’re on good legal grounds,” said tribal spokesman Carlos Bullock after conferring Tuesday with members of the tribal council.
Chuck McDonald, a non-lawyer who is part of the tribe’s litigation team, said the filing by the state was expected.
“There’s no surprise. The tribe has been in discussion with the state since before they opened the gaming hall, and we knew they were going to take this action,” he said.
“The tribe is operating this gaming legally under authority granted by the NIGC, although obviously the state disagrees. Let’s get this resolved once and for all,” he said.
According to the state, both the Tigua Indians in El Paso and the Alabama-Coushatta near Livingston forever foreswore gambling three decades ago as a condition of becoming federally recognized tribes.
Since then, however, Texas began offering and also permitting a wide range of gaming to the public, and the two tribes eventually opened their own small casinos, triggering litigation by the state.
In 2002, the state sued to force the Tigua to close their Speaking Rock Casino, while the Alabama-Coushatta voluntarily closed their small operation to avoid a similar fight.
Since then, the Tigua Indians have been in near constant litigation with the state, most recently over their entertainment centers which they claim most offered permitted “sweepstakes” to the public.
More than 240 tribes across the country offer certain types of gaming under the oversight of the National Indian Gaming Commission. In Texas, only the Kickapoo have done so without challenge from the state.
The legal landscape for the Tigua and Alabama-Coushatta appeared to improve last year when both the Interior Department and the NIGC issued administrative opinions that the two small tribes could offer certain types of gaming.
But earlier this year, the state won a marathon legal battle with the Tigua when a federal judge in El Paso ruled that the tribe’s entertainment center was really a thinly disguised gambling hall.
The Tigua now plan on offering permitted bingo-hall-style games that are legal in Texas.
In ordering the Tigua to cease offering “sweepstakes,” U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone also ruled that federal case law, which prohibited the gaming, trumped the opinions of the two federal agencies.
In reopening their “entertainment center” with 365 slotlike electronic bingo machines this spring, the Alabama-Coushatta hired more than 200 employees, almost half from the tribe, and were soon hosting packed houses.
Bullock, the tribal spokesman, said the beneficial effects of the gaming hall were felt immediately.
“It’s been huge, not only for us, but for the area. We’re attracting a lot of traffic into our communities, and local businesses have benefited,” he said.