Texas Legislation Ensures Kickapoo Tribe Get Seat At Gaming Table

Written By Tyler Andrews on January 24, 2023 - Last Updated on January 25, 2023
KIckapoo Tribe of Texas

Sen. Roland Gutierrez (D-19) has filed a resolution (SJR-30) establishing a new compact with the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas that would allow them to partake in all Class III casino games legalized in the state.

This legislation has been filed in nearly identical form in past legislative sessions to supplement casino legislation, like SJR-17, the resolution filed by Sen. Carol Alvarado in November that would legalize Texas casinos and retail sports betting.

At the moment, Texas outlaws nearly all forms of gaming, and Sen. Gutierrez’s legislation, like Sen. Alvarado’s, would require a constitutional amendment that entails a two-thirds majority vote in both houses.

The Kickapoo Tribe currently operates the state’s only tribal casino

The Kickapoo Tribe operates the only tribal casino in the state, The Lucky Eagle Casino, in Eagle Pass, Texas, near the Mexican border. Currently the tribe offers a range of Class II casino games, including bingo, keno, and non-banked card games like poker. 

Opening the casino to Class III gaming would allow them to offer other casino-style card games like 21 and blackjack, as well as Vegas-style slot machines, craps, and, possibly, sports betting.

The law that governs the Kickapoo’s gaming industry is the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), which grants tribes a level of autonomy in offering tribal gaming within the confines of federal and state laws authorizing said gaming. 

In Texas, IGRA allows the Kickapoo tribe the freedom to allow Class I and Class II casino games as those are the types of gaming authorized in Texas. As a result, the Lucky Eagle Casino is the state’s only true casino offering Class II gaming. 

The state’s other two tribes, the Ysleta del Sur (Tiguas) and the Alabama-Coushatta, who are not protected under IGRA, have their own entertainment centers offering even more limited Class I casino games mainly in the form of electronic bingo. As a result, Gutierrez’s legislation would only apply to the Kickapoo tribe.

 SJR-30 Seeks to give the Kickapoo a firm foothold in Texas’s gambling future

This legislation ensures that the Kickapoo Tribe receive the same freedom to offer gambling as all other gambling businesses in the state. 

The language of the resolution states,

“If, after January 1, 2024, this state by general law or constitutional amendment authorizes video lottery terminals, slot machines, or other forms of gaming not otherwise authorized before that date within 200 miles of the boundary of the reservation of the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas near Eagle Pass, Texas, the tribe is authorized to offer the same types of games or devices as authorized under that law or amendment at a location designated by the tribe.”

Gutierrez’s resolution gives the tribe space to grow their casino industry, only limiting their growth in the following ways:

  • The new casino location is on land owned or leased by the Kickapoo tribe
  • The location is within 300 miles of the boundary of the tribe’s reservation
  • The new location is not within 30 miles of a racetrack that holds a pari-mutuel wagering license for horse or greyhound racing on the date the compact is signed

In protecting the Kickapoo from an excessive tax hit, SJR-30 makes two stipulations. The first states,

“A tax or fee may not be imposed on the tribe in an amount that exceeds the amount of a tax or fee imposed on the operators of other gaming facilities in this state.”

That is to say that tribes can not be taxed above what commercial casino operators are taxed. Moreover, Gutierrez’s resolution specifies the rate at which Kickapoo casinos would be taxed: 3% of net win for all Class III casino games.

This stipulation counteracts language in SJR-17, Alvarado’s resolution, that states that tribes “remit to the state a portion of its gaming revenue in an amount equal to the rate provided by the general law.”

In the case of Alvarado’s legislation, the general law would entail two tax rates:

  • 10% of gross gaming revenue from table games
  • 25% of gross gaming revenue from slot machines

This legislation preserves tribal autonomy but raises questions

Gutierrez’s resolution gives the tribes a clear tax break compared to the rates put forth in Alvarado’s bill. This in keeping with the efforts of the IGRA “to promote tribal economic development, tribal self-sufficiency, and strong tribal government.”

Questions remain as to how the state’s other two federally-recognized tribes will react to this legislation. Both the Ysleta and Alabama-Coushatta do not receive IGRA protection. If the state were to renegotiate its relationship with those tribes and allow them to return to IGRA protection, would Gutierrez’s legislation retroactively confer upon them a similar status as the Kickapoo? More importantly, though, will Texas take the first step in expanding legal gambling in the state?

Image Source: AP

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Tyler Andrews

Tyler is the Managing Editor for PlayTexas, covering sports, sports law and gambling for the Lone Star State. He has also covered similar topics for a number of Catena Media's regional sites including NCSharp, PlayCA, PlayFL, PlayOhio, and PlayMA. Tyler is a Texas resident and currently specializes in covering gambling legislation and news in emerging US markets.

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