When the Supreme Court ruled the Ysleta del Sur could offer bingo to patrons despite objections from the state of Texas, the writing was on the wall. One month later, Texas has ended its fight over electronic bingo.
When the Yselta del Sur Pueblo tribe won its Supreme Court case in June, it was also a de facto victory for the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas. The state had also sued that tribe in a separate case over the same issue, electronic bingo.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton notified the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals this week that Texas would not appeal a lower court’s decision. That court had ruled that the Alabama-Coushatta tribe was legally offering electronic bingo at its Naskila Gaming facility.
Tribes gain some sovereignty
The Supreme Court ruling affirmed that bingo represents a form of gambling the state cannot prohibit. Tribes have full control in regulating gaming activities on sovereign land as long as the games are legal in Texas.
Texas’ strict laws against most gambling will not change over the High Court’s ruling or Paxton’s decision to end the state’s appeal. Tribes should not expect a softening of restrictions on other forms of gaming.
The Alabama-Coushatta tribe’s victory represents continued stable employment for at least 700 people living on East Texas tribal lands, according to Ricky Sylestine, Chairman of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas Tribal Council.
“The families that depend on Naskila Gaming for their paychecks are breathing a sigh of relief. For years, the state’s efforts have created uncertainty for our tribe, Naskila Gaming employees and our East Texas neighbors. Now, we can put those threats behind us and look to a brighter future.”
The Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas resides in Polk County, northeast of Houston. They have a membership of just over 1,000 members, most of whom live on tribal lands. Naskila Gaming employs many of them, but as the largest private employer in Polk County, its employees come from the broader community as well.
State Rep. James White of Tyler County welcomed Paxton’s decision.
“The Alabama-Coushatta Tribe are our East Texas friends. I am elated that the federal courts have provided a level of clarity in order for the state to decide not to further pursue litigation. This is a win for the local prosperity for the tribe and for deep East Texas.”
Texas and tribes have been at odds for years
Tribes in Texas have been shuffled back and forth between federal and state oversight for more than 80 years. Starting in the 1940s with the Indian Termination Act, tribes like the Alabama-Coushatta and the Ysleta had their federal protection terminated.
That protection was granted to the state in an effort to give the tribes more autonomy. While it benefited tribes by canceling debts, it left them under state control, which, among other things, did not tolerate gambling, a major component of tribal economies.
Texas eventually felt that its oversight of the tribes was unconstitutional. This led to legislation placing them back under the authority of the feds, but with the stipulation that they follow Texas gambling laws. This has resulted in years of legal battles between the tribes and the state. With the issue of tribal bingo, the fight has carried on since 1994.
Texas tribes seek IGRA protection
With the current threat against the Ysleta del Sur and the Alabama-Coushatta tribes over, they have more confidence moving forward. However, they ultimately want to be subsumed by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). This would prevent them from further legal entanglements.
The US House of Representatives approved legislation last year that would allow for this. Sens. Martin Heinrich, D-NM, and Jon Tester, D-MT, have introduced identical legislation in the Senate (S. 4196), with no action as of yet. Alabama-Coushatta’ Sylestine is eager to see the bill passed soon.
“The Senate can and should provide our employees, visitors and community partners even greater certainty by passing this legislation before the end of this year.”