Naskila Carves Out Niche In Casino-Deprived East Texas

Written By TJ McBride on January 11, 2024
Photo of patrons playing slot machines at Naskila Casino on a story about the casino's background and offerings.

Just three tribal casinos make up the entire gaming industry in Texas outside of the lottery. One of those, Naskila Casino, has overcome multiple obstacles over the years to remain a viable option for gamblers in the Lone Star State.

A constant target of Texas lawmakers hell-bent on shutting them down, the Naskila Casino continues to carve out a niche for itself. The casino’s struggles are the struggles of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe as it seeks sovereignty against a stubborn foe intent on possessing all the power.

It’s really an American story.

It took 150 years for the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe to gain federal recognition

Commercial casinos are illegal in Texas. None of the three Texas tribal casinos offers table games like blackjack or baccarat. Lucky Eagle Casino, operated by the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas, is the only casino in the state with a poker room.

The Alabama and Coushatta tribes migrated into modern-day Texas in the 1780s. Both tribes fought in the Mexican War of Independence in the early 18oos. Following the war, the Republic of Texas recognized the combined tribe’s claim to lands in the area. It was not until nearly 150 years later, though, that the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe gained federal recognition.

Fourteen years after gaining federal status in 1987, the tribe opened Naskila Casino. Nine months later, it was shut down. It would be the first of many battles the tribe would fight against officials in Texas.

The Alabama-Coushatta Tribe claimed it had the right to offer electronic bingo gaming under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988. The state of Texas, however, argued that the tribe operated under the Texas Tribe Restoration Act of 1987, which prohibits casino gaming.

Courts side with tribe against Texas officials

It took until the end of 2015 before the US Department of Interior and the National Indian Gaming Commission ruled that Naskila could operate Class II casino games. That did not stop Texas legislators in their pursuits. They took the issue to court.

In August 2021, a US District Court ruled against the state of Texas in a lawsuit to shut down Naskila. The US Supreme Court reaffirmed that decision, saying Texas has no jurisdiction over tribal casinos on tribal land.

That 5-4 ruling by the Supreme Court in June 2022 was the biggest legal win for the tribe so far. Tribal Council Chairman Ricky Sylestine told Bluebonnet News that the ruling was a game-changer for the tribe.

“The Supreme Court decision ended years of uncertainty for the tribe and for Naskila. It was not easy protecting our tribal sovereignty against the powerful elected officials in Texas. However, we had no choice, and the Supreme Court decision confirmed that we were doing the right thing for our people and for the people who depend on Naskila Casino for their livelihoods.”

What games are offered at Naskila Casino?

For now, Naskila will have to make do with what it can offer even if its options are limited due to the way gambling is viewed by Texas lawmakers.

The casino floor has more than 800 electronic bingo machines that are like casino-style slot machines. There are progressive jackpots, and the denominations range from penny games to $25 options for high-limit players. All the games are housed on Naskila’s 30,000-square-foot gaming floor. Some of the electronic bingo games offered are:

  • Crystal Star
  • Pay Fever!
  • Willie Nelson Shotgun Willie
  • Super Jackpot Double Lion
  • Dublin Your Luck

There is also a player’s club called the Seven Feathers Club. There are four tiers players can reach:

  • Select
  • Preferred
  • Premier
  • Elite

Club members receive points for play. Points can be redeemed for food, items at the gift shop or for free play. Club members can also earn discounts on gas at the Naskila gas station.

The casino does not have any table games, a poker room or a true bingo hall.

Naskila Casino has a couple of available food options

Naskila has two dining options available.

Like the casino, Timbers Grille is open 24/7. It is a typical burger restaurant that also has a bit more variety to its menu, such as fried catfish and ribeye steaks. Prices range from $9 to $36, and there are desserts available.

The other option is Café Itto Si, which is open Sundays through Thursdays from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. The café stays open two hours later on Fridays and Saturdays. It offers coffee and tea to go with sandwiches and pastries. Nothing on the menu is over $10.

Location, location, location

Naskila Casino, located in Livingston, is the most accessible casino in terms of distance from major Texas cities. It’s not more than a four-hour drive from the state’s most-populated cities. It’s closest to Texas’ largest city, Houston.

  • Austin: 252 miles, three hours and 30 minutes
  • Dallas: 230 miles, three hours and 30 minutes
  • Fort Worth: 262 miles, four hours
  • Houston: 90 miles, one hour and 30 minutes
  • San Antonio: 284 miles, four hours and 15 minutes

There is also the Naskila Gaming Express available that picks up guests from several locations:

  • Conroe
  • Houston (five locations)
  • Humble
  • Katy
  • New Caney
  • Spring
  • The Woodlands
  • Tomball

The shuttle costs $10, but riders get $25 in free play. There are daily round-trip rides. Considering there is no hotel at Naskila Casino, the shuttle provides a means for guests to get to and from the casino from a variety of locations.

Photo by Contributed
TJ McBride Avatar
Written by
TJ McBride

T.J. McBride is a writer and reporter based in Denver, Colorado who covers the Denver Nuggets as a beat writer and the current gaming landscape in Texas. His byline can be found across many websites such as ESPN, FiveThirtyEight, Bleacher Report, and others.

View all posts by TJ McBride