Rep. Mary Gonzalez, D-El Paso, recently filed a joint resolution to require Gov. Greg Abbott to establish tribal gaming compacts with the state’s three tribes, allowing them to offer Class III gaming, as defined by the National Indian Gaming Commission, at their tribal casinos.
The three tribes involved in House Joint Resolution 156 are:
- The Alabama-Coushatta tribe of Deep East Texas;
- The Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas;
- Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo, or Tiguas Tribe, of Texas.
These tribes operate gambling facilities that contain electronic bingo machines. The Kickapoo Tribe also offers limited non-banked casino card games. The bill authorizes them to sue the state if the governor does not negotiate in good faith the expansion of Texas casinos on tribal lands.
HJR 156 would amend the state Constitution and needs approval by two-thirds of the House and Senate and a majority vote from Texas voters in the November 2023 election to pass into law.
The bill sits in the House State Affairs Committee.
Tribes want fair treatment and regulated facilities
The bill proposed by Gonzalez would ensure that Texas’ three tribes, whether they are currently subsumed by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act or not, receive IGRA-like protections to offer Class III gaming. These include house-banked card games and Vegas-style slot machines. Currently, only the Kickapoo receives IGRA protection.
The bill states,
“If either the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas or the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo are not authorized to conduct gaming under the Indian Gaming Regulatory at the time this amendment is approved by the majority of voters at an election called for that purpose, that Indian tribe may offer any form of gaming authorized by this amendment or any future amendment without being subject to or complying with any gaming regulations prescribed by the state.”
The Alabama-Coushatta tribe opened its gambling facility, Naskila Gaming, in 2016. After opening, the tribe fought for six years with the state to remain open. Finally, in 2022, the US Supreme Court ruled it could remain open for business, after which time the state conceded.
If successful, the bill would require the governor to negotiate a compact with the Alabama-Coushattta should the tribe desire. This would protect the businesses on these tribal lands and the people in the surrounding area who are employed by Naskila Gaming.
“We are a sovereign nation with that right to conduct class-two gaming activities; we just want to protect our own interest and be on the same playing field as the destination resorts,” Ronnie Thomas, the treasurer of the Alabama-Coushatta council, told ABC9-TV in Lufkin.
The same is true for the Tiguas Tribe (Ysleta del Sur) and its gaming facility, the Speaking Rock Entertainment Center, should it wish to enter into a gaming compact.
Texas gambling facilities are vital for indigenous communities
The economic success of any community is important, and that’s no different for these tribes. Gonzalez said in a statement:
“These indigenous communities are very important to the life and culture of our state and to the economic success of their regions. It’s important that we treat these communities with fairness and respect as they go about the work of providing for themselves.”
Revenue from Naskila Gaming owned by the Alabama-Coushatta tribe goes toward community scholarships, housing projects and members’ health care plans.
Gonzalez has a history of championing diverse Texas groups
Gonzalez is serving in her sixth term in the Texas House of Representatives as part of House District 75 in El Paso County.
Raised in Clint, Texas, Gonzalez earned her bachelor’s degree at the University of Texas in Austin. She received her master’s degree from St. Edward’s University and returned to the University of Texas to complete her doctorate.
In addition to serving in the House, Gonzalez is the executive director for the Mexican American School Boards Association. She is also an adjunct professor at St. Edward’s University.
Gonzalez has supported many bills that improved public education. She supports economic development and agriculture throughout her district and the state of Texas. She also chairs the Texas House LGBTQ Caucus and the Board of Latino Legislative Leaders, and she is treasurer for the Information Technology Caucus.
In 2015, Gonzalez was the youngest inductee into the El Paso Women’s Hall of Fame. She’s also received many awards throughout her career, including:
- Champion of Equality by Equality Texas
- Leader of Promise by the YWCA of Greater Austin
- Advocate of the Year by Equality Texas
- Legislative Hero by Texas Access To Justice Foundation
Her support of Texas’s three tribes comes as both the Alabama-Coushatta and the Kickapoo testified in House hearings on sports betting and casino legislation. Both tribes expressed concern with the lack of IGRA language in Rep. Jeff Leach’s online sports betting constitutional amendment (House Joint Resolution 102) and Rep. Charlie Geren’s casino and retail sports betting constitutional amendment (House Joint Resolution 155).
Should HJR 156 receive a House hearing, the same State Affairs Committee that heard Leach’s and Geren’s legislation will assess Gonzalez’s bill. There is a strong likelihood that they will inquire how her bill would interact with other gaming legislation on file.
A committee hearing is not yet on the schedule for HJR 156.