Alabama-Coushatta Garners Support In Attempt To Gain Federal Standing

Written By Darren Cooper on November 7, 2023
A photo of a rendering of the Naskila Casino on a story about the Alabama-Coushatta's fight for national tribal recognition.

The Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas continues to gather community backing in its ongoing battle to be taken off Texas’ restrictive state gambling laws and be governed under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

The Port Arthur City Council became the 100th community or civic group to express formal support by offering an official resolution for the tribe, which runs Naskila Casino, a Class II Indian gaming facility in Southeast Texas about an hour from Houston.

Chairman of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribal Council Ricky Sylestine told Indian Gaming the tribe is thankful for the assistance in its quest.

“We are grateful for the support we have received from elected officials, community leaders and our fellow Texans. These groups have met with us to learn more about our tribe and our contributions to East Texas. We are proud to be part of this community and to enjoy such positive, productive relationships with our many neighbors and friends.”

Still playing … still waiting

Since Naskila’s controversial opening, the tribe has been doing a complicated dance with government officials at the state and federal levels. Texas has some of the most restrictive gambling laws in the country. All commercial casino play is illegal in Texas, including online and in-person casinos.

Naskila Casino opened in 2001 and is one of three tribal casinos in Texas. It was soon shut down by officials trying to decide what laws should apply and what games should be allowed.

The tribe then sent a request to the National Indian Gaming Commission seeking federal protections. After waiting 13 years, it reopened the casino in May 2016, finally cleared to offer electronic bingo-style machines but no table games. Winners are paid through a player pool instead of by the house.

Recently, the tribe has been pushing the US Congress to approve the Tribes of Texas Equal and Fair Opportunity Act. It would allow the tribe, and its fellow Ysleta del Sur Pueblo tribe in El Paso, to fall under the same federal guidelines as other tribal nations. Texas Congressman Morgan Luttrell has crafted a measure to make that happen.

“I’m proud to be a supportive voice in Congress for the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe, working to protect the economic well-being and sustainability of the tribe and the reservation,” Luttrell told Indian Gaming. “I’ll continue working with my colleagues in a bipartisan, bicameral way to invest in the Alabama-Coushatta community by enhancing economic opportunity and fostering the relationship between the tribe and fellow Texans.”

The state of Texas sued the tribe over electronic bingo. But the US Supreme Court ruled in favor of the tribe last year, saying it has full control of the regulated gaming activities offered on its sovereign land as long as the games are legal in Texas, which electronic bingo is.

What’s next?

Among the Texas organizations that have offered support for the tribe have been city councils, chambers of commerce and various political groups. The first public display of support came from the All Pueblo Council of Governors in March 2018, Sylestine said.

“The resolutions from our neighbors are very helpful as we advocate for ourselves before legislators at the state and federal levels. We are proud to show that our community supports us and understands the importance of Naskila Casino to our regional economy.”

These measures of support are small, but they’re meaningful. Naskila Casino is one of the biggest employers in Polk County. It provides 825 jobs in the area.

The Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas lists approximately 1,400 members. A study from the Texas Forest Country Partnership said it was responsible for $212 million in annual economic activity.

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Darren Cooper

Darren Cooper was born and raised in Southern Louisiana, just a short pirogue ride away from New Orleans. He started his journalism career at the New Orleans Times-Picayune and has been a writer and columnist in New Jersey since 1998. He's won 14 statewide press awards and earned his first Associated Press Sports Editors Top 10 award in 2022.

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