Texas Prefers To Sue, Not Support, Tribal Gaming

Written By Tyler Andrews on August 4, 2022
Texas refuses to support tribal gaming

Tribal gaming secured a small victory over the state of Texas in 2022. Regrettably, tribes in Texas will have to be content with that diminutive achievement. The stark reality is, Texas refuses to support tribal gaming.

There are currently three federally recognized groups in Texas with tribal gaming establishments: 

  • The Lucky Eagle Casino Hotel in Eagle Pass, operated by the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas
  • The Speaking Rock Entertainment Center in El Paso, operated by the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo tribe
  • Naskila Gaming in Livingston, operated by the the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas

The Ysleta tribe’s Supreme Court victory over the state of Texas in June allows it and the Alabama-Coushatta tribe to offer electronic bingo at their facilities.The two tribes are covered by the Restoration Act, a unique set of laws drafted after Texas renounced responsibility over the tribes.

The Kickapoo Tribe, on the other hand, falls under the jurisdiction of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). Their casino deep in south Texas on the Mexico border is the only casino in the state offering traditional casino games.

The High Court’s decision gave tribal nations some autonomy, but there’s no indication that it represents a trend toward something like sports betting becoming legal in Texas … on tribal lands or in commercial venues.

Tribal revenue and employment will increase

In 2021, tribal gaming generated $50 million in tax impact for the state of Texas, according to the American Gaming Association. Also, more than 3,000 jobs were supported by tribal gaming.

Those numbers took into account only the Lucky Eagle and Naskila Gaming facilities. With Speaking Rock receiving the green light to offer electronic bingo, Texas will see a boost in tribal economic impact moving forward.

Despite this growth, Texas tribes can’t help but wonder what their revenues would be if they were allowed to offer full gambling operations. They look at tribal casinos in Oklahoma, Louisiana and New Mexico and realize many of those casinos are successful because of Texas gamblers.

What is Texas doing for its tribal communities?

The short answer is, not much.

Texas has established zero compacts with its three federally recognized tribes, allowing only the Kickapoo Tribe to fall under the jurisdiction of the IGRA. The closest large city whose residents can enjoy gambling at the Lucky Eagle’s casino is San Antonio, 140 miles to the east.

Lifting regulations and ending legal battles that have endured for decades begins to relieve the pressure that will lead to more job opportunities for the state. In a state as large as Texas, though, tribal gaming options and tribal economic opportunities are few and far between.

Texas gamblers can always take a trip out of state to find more hospitable gaming arrangements in neighboring states. Texas’s tribal communities, however, don’t have that luxury.

They’re left with two options: Make due with what they have, or wrest away from the state what little autonomy they can get. 

Oklahoma gaming revenue fueled by tribal titans

Oklahoma has two commercial casinos that generate $55 million in tax revenue for the state.

However, the Sooner State has a robust tribal gaming landscape. Thirty-three tribes operate 143 tribal gaming centers under the guidance of 35 tribal compacts. All tribes operate under the guidance of the IGRA, which promotes tribal autonomy. 

In 2021, the tribal tax revenue in Oklahoma topped out at $1.69 billion. The total economic impact for the state reached $9.5 billion. Tribal casinos also employed nearly 76,000 people in nearly every sector of the state except the panhandle. 

These numbers are driven by the two tribal titans: The Winstar and the Choctaw casinos, both on the Oklahoma/Texas border. The Choctaw, for reference, had an economic impact on the state of $2.5 billion in 2019. This is based on the tribe’s last economic impact statement, which came prior to the recent $600 million expansion of the casino.

Texas tribes, by comparison, do not have full protection under the IGRA. The Restoration Act forces them to adhere to Texas’ prohibitive gaming laws.

Louisiana tribal casinos boosted by sports betting

Louisiana is home to five tribal casinos and 19 commercial casinos. Tribal casinos in the Pelican State bring in $120 million in tax revenue and also 8,200 jobs on the basis of 21 legal compacts with four tribes.

While these numbers pale in comparison to Oklahoma’s, Louisiana tribes have tapped into the state’s sports betting revenue stream and will certainly be expanding their economic impact on the state.

All five tribal casinos reside in parishes where sports betting is legal, and four currently also offer sports betting:

  • Cypress Bayou Casino
  • Paragon Casino Resort
  • Margaritaville Resort Casino
  • Coushatta Casino Resort

The fifth, the Jena Choctaw Pines, may open a sportsbook in the coming year. 

Opening retail sportsbooks reaches the younger demographics more likely to visit casinos for entertainment and sports than for casino games. 

There is also just more money in sportsbooks these days. The Louisiana Gaming Control Board reported total wagers in 2021 of $161 million at all riverboat casinos in the state. Compare that with $193 million in total handle at all retail sportsbooks in less than half a year of operation and you can see the importance of sports betting for tribal casinos.

New Mexico gives tribal gaming the upper hand

New Mexico’s deep connection to its tribal history is evident in the regulation of the state’s gaming industry.

Twenty-one of the state’s 26 casinos are tribal. The state has 70 distinct tribal compacts, but they are all based on a standard compact adopted in 2001. In its current form, the state’s compact authorizes that only tribal casinos can operate sportsbooks. 

As a result, the tribal casinos provide $275 million of the state’s total tax revenue of $380 million. They’ve also created 15,000 of the state’s 17,394 casino jobs. 

In 2021, the state Legislature let a bill die that would have legalized online sports betting at the state’s five commercial racinos. A fiscal analysis of the legislation cited potential violations of the state’s tribal compacts.

The decision also underscores the state’s concerted efforts to prop up tribal communities and let them lead the way into legal sports betting in New Mexico.

Photo by Shutterstock
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Written by
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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