The Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas is one of three federally recognized tribes in the state. If you live in the southeast portion of the state, you have probably seen advertising or signage about the tribe’s gambling venue — Naskila Gaming. As it happens, the tribe’s reservation lands are a few miles to the east of Livingston and are only about an hour away from Houston (if there’s no traffic).
At any rate, the tribe is a fixture in the Big Thicket and has taken its gambling fight all the way to the US Supreme Court. So, let’s talk about all the different things going on with the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas.
- Name: Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas
- Reservation location: About 20 miles east of Livingston
- Reservation size: Roughly 10,600 acres
- Year of federal recognition: 1987
- Gambling location? Yes, Naskila Gaming
Federal recognition history
The Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas had a long and troubled road to federal recognition. For over 100 years after the state’s annexation into the US in 1845, the tribe and the state coexisted in a sort of uneasy truce. However, the truce ended unceremoniously with the US government’s adoption of a group of policies known as Indian termination. Beginning with the Kansas Act of 1940, tribes all over the country began to lose their standing with the federal government.
The Alabama-Coushatta Tribe felt the effects in 1954. The tribe was swept up as part of an addendum to House concurrent resolution 108 of 1953, the law that officially cemented termination as a policy of the US government. A Department of the Interior study of the law’s effect yielded a recommendation to terminate the Alabama Coushatta Tribe of Texas. Another concurrent law essentially returned reservation lands to state control. In 1965, management of the tribe’s affairs passed to the newly formed Texas Indian Commission.
Government policy began to swing back the other direction in the late 1960s under President Lyndon B. Johnson, who was himself a Texan. Both he and his successor, Richard Nixon, favored self-determination for tribes. However, the tribe saw no relief until 1983, when Texas Attorney General Jim Mattox prominently opined that the state’s authority over the tribe violated the Texas Constitution. The federal government’s withdrawal left the tribe and its reservation lands in a neutral (and private) state, rather than a ward of the state government.
Two years later, in 1985, a congressman from Texas, Ronald Coleman, filed a bill in the US House of Representatives to re-recognize the Alabama Coushatta Tribe of Texas as an organized Native American group. Amendments and disagreements about the language of the bill delayed the authorization for two more years, but the tribe finally received official status and designation of its lands as reservation lands in 1987.
The tribe and the state of Texas
The Alabamas and the Coushattas did not begin as the same tribe. Though they both descended from the same groups and area, the two did not come together in Texas until the 1850s. The state government purchased roughly 1,100 acres for the Alabamas to use as a reservation, but reneged on a pledge to buy land for the Coushattas. Tribal members in both groups struggled for many decades, due to a language barrier and lack of jobs.
The federal government passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act in 1988. This law allows federally recognized tribes to offer gambling on tribal lands. It also sorted gambling activities into one of three classes. Games in the service of ceremonies or religious observances are Class I, non-banked games like bingo and poker are Class II and banked games like table games and bona fide slots are Class III.
The law further allows tribes to pursue both Class I and Class II gambling without any input from state governments. The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act is the reason, for instance, that the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe in Eagle Pass is able to operate the Kickapoo Lucky Eagle Casino. Class III gambling requires an agreement (“compact”) between the state government and tribe.
Naskila Gaming and the 1987 Restoration Act
However, the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe has not had a clear path to even being able to offer Class II gambling. The same 1987 law that restored the tribe to its recognized status with the federal government included provisions that banned it from offering any gambling that Texas prohibits. At the time, the tribe had no reason to push back on those provisions, as its restoration as a tribe in good standing offered far more positives than negatives. Furthermore, gambling on tribal land wouldn’t become a legal possibility until the following year.
However, since that did happen, the tribe (along with another Texas tribe, the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo) has been arguing that it should be able to offer Class II gambling under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. So far, the tribe has attempted to open a gambling venue twice. It first opened a slots and poker venue in 2001. The state, however, closed the room down after nine months, citing state prohibitions on slots and poker and the 1987 restoration law.
The tribe then submitted a request in 2002 to the National Indian Gaming Commission for permission to open a Class II casino. The commission took 13 years — until November 2015 — to respond, but it finally gave its approval. Thus, the tribe opened Naskila Gaming in May 2016. The new Alabama-Coushatta casino offers hundreds of slot-like electronic bingo machines in keeping with the restriction to Class II gambling.
A court battle begins
Naskila Gaming has managed to remain in service ever since. However, the tribe is not the only group ready to continue the dispute. The state of Texas filed suit almost immediately after the facility opened near Livingston, arguing that it violated the terms of the Restoration Act. The tribe responded by arguing that a) the tribe deserved deference under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, and b) deference or not, the activities at Naskila Gaming were not illegal under the Restoration Act and thus complied with the terms of that law, too.
The tribe’s first argument met its demise in court. The second, however, did not. A federal judge ruled in 2021 that the activities at Naskila do, in fact, satisfy the conditions of the Restoration Act. Naturally, the state has appealed, but nothing is moving because of the state’s similar fight with the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, the other Texas tribe without a clear path to legal gambling on tribal land.
The Alabama-Coushatta Tribe has joined with the Tiguas (Ysleta del Sur Pueblo) through an amicus brief in the El Paso tribe’s ongoing litigation with the state. The tribe has appealed its case all the way to the US Supreme Court, and a decision on the matter should be forthcoming. The decision should also set an important precedent for the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe, so its alliance with the Tiguas is no surprise.
In the meantime, Naskila Gaming continues to operate. For the time being, it is, in fact, the nearest legal (sort of) casino to residents in Houston, Austin and southeast Texas. However, the Naskila Gaming casino is not the only facility of note on the reservation. Here are some of the other features:
- Chief Kina Health Center
- Cultural center
- Day care center
- Gift shop
- Multipurpose center and gym
- Naskila Gaming
- One Stop Ischoopa (convenience store)
- Smoke shop
- Welcome center
This list likely sells the experience at the reservation short. There are roughly 10,600 acres under the jurisdiction of the tribe. If you’re in the Livingston area and looking for a distinct experience without having to drive very far, consider a visit.
- Address: 540 State Park Road 56, Livingston, TX 77351
- Hours of operation: 24 hours a day
- Games available: Electronic bingo machines
Naskila Gaming opened its doors in May 2016. It offers nearly 800 electronic bingo machines in 15,000 square feet of gambling space. The machines are functionally identical to slot machines and bear titles like Pac Man, Willie Nelson: Whiskey River and Daddy Morebucks. The only difference between these titles and ones you would find in Las Vegas is the means that the machines use to generate their results. From the point of view of the player, there is almost no way to tell.
Naskila Gaming also offers two restaurants. The hours of operation for the two spots are staggered to ensure that one is always open. Timbers Grille is the sit-down restaurant, open from 6 a.m. until no earlier than 11 p.m. Patrons can order options like steaks, burgers, salads and seafood in a casual setting. If it’s later in the evening, you can turn to Cafe Itto Si, which offers sandwiches and snacks until 6 in the morning.
Finally, Naskila Gaming has a players club that offers rewards to regular customers. The Naskila Gaming Players Club has free play, discounts on food and at the gift shop and priority seating at Timbers Grille. At higher tiers of the program, you can receive access to the VIP Lounge, invitations to events and a personal host.
One thing that Naskila Gaming does not offer is accommodations. However, there are plenty of motels in nearby Livingston, if it comes to that, and Naskila mostly operates as a day-trip location, anyway. There is no alcohol available at the establishment or on reservation grounds, so the need for a place to stay if you cannot drive is likely lower than at a typical casino.
Is Naskila Gaming legal?
For now, yes. The state’s appeal against the court ruling in the tribe’s favor is on hold while the state pursues its other lawsuit against a Texas tribe at the US Supreme Court.
How old do you have to be to play at Naskila?
Twenty-one. Even though the venue doesn’t serve alcohol, the tribe requires patrons to be over the drinking age in order to play.
Does the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe offer online gambling?
No. There is no language in either the Restoration Act or the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act that would permit the tribe to offer virtual gambling to people outside the reservation’s borders.
Does the tribe or Naskila Gaming have any gambling partners?
No. Despite some cross-promotions with local news stations and other businesses, Naskila Gaming has no partnerships with any notable gambling companies or sports franchises.
Would the tribe be involved with any future gambling expansion in Texas?
Hard to say. Even if Texas lawmakers decide to push forward with sports betting or casino legislation, it’s unclear if any of the federally recognized tribes in the state would be part of those plans. More to the point, the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe is embroiled in a lawsuit with the state and has joined against the state in another tribal lawsuit, so there could be some hard feelings lingering in Austin even if any gambling expansion happened.