Supreme Court to Hear Appeal on Tribes Offering Gambling in Texas

Written By Martin Harris on November 14, 2021
Texas gambling at the center of conflict between the state and two tribes.

Two tribes received new hope recently in their ongoing effort to offer new Texas gambling options on their lands.

The US Supreme Court has granted an appeal in a suit involving one of the tribes, the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo of El Paso, also known as the Tiguas, and the state of Texas.

In its petition for a writ of certiorari, the Tiguas assert their right to offer certain forms of gambling. Texas currently denies that right both to the Tiguas and another tribe seeking the same rights, the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas.

According to the El Paso Times, the Supreme Court will likely begin hearing arguments in the case and decide the matter during the first half of 2022.

Conflict between Tribes and the State

An agreement made between the two tribes and the state over three decades ago is the source of the issue.

The Indian Tribes of Texas Restoration Act of 1987 first granted the two tribes federal recognition. The law included a provision that the tribes would agree to abide by TX laws prohibiting gambling.

One year later came the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 (IGRA). That federal law paved the way for tribes across the country to create compacts with states to provide gambling. But Texas continues to refer back to the earlier agreement and deny the two tribes their request to offer gambling.

The new suit challenges a 1994 ruling by a US Circuit Court reaffirming the earlier agreement. The Tiguas maintain the ruling unfairly gave TX jurisdiction over ‘non-prohibited gaming activities’ on their land and that of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe.

The tribes attempted to get the Supreme Court to grant a petition in January 2020 but were denied. However, the high court accepted it this time as at least four of the nine justices agreed to hear it. The decision to hear the case is itself notable. The Supreme Court only agrees to hear a limited number of appeals each year.

A matter of sovereignty and self-determination

According to lead counsel to the Tiguas, Brant Martin, the case has broad implications. He affirms there is more at stake than just the two TX tribes being able to open casinos one day. In a statement shared by the El Paso Times, Martin said:

“This is an important case involving sovereignty and self-determination of Native American Tribes, and the interpretation of federal statutes protecting those rights. We look forward to vindicating our clients’ position in the Supreme Court.”

Some Texas lawmakers echoed Martin’s sentiment, including US Rep. Veronica Escobar. Escobar sponsored and helped pass legislation in the U.S. House earlier this year supporting the tribes’ efforts.

That legislation is the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo and Alabama-Coushatta Tribes of Texas Equal and Fair Opportunity Act. Currently, legislation has been received by the Senate where it has been referred to the Committee on Indian Affairs.

“As I continue to work in Congress to ensure my Ysleta del Sur Pueblo and Alabama-Coushatta Tribes of Texas Equal and Fair Opportunity Act gets to President Biden’s desk, I expect the Supreme Court to put an end to the discrimination the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo and Alabama-Coushatta tribes have suffered for far too long and finally grant them the rights and opportunities they deserve,” said Escobar.

The Kickapoo Tribe of Texas operates its own Class II gaming casino, the Kickapoo Lucky Eagle Casino in Eagle Pass that opened in 1996. Gaming does exist in Texas, albeit in a limited capacity. In addition to the one tribal casino and the TX Lottery, there are online gaming options for enthusiasts in the Lone Star State.

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