The Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas is one of three federally recognized Native American tribes in the Lone Star State. The tribe’s population is split between the group’s reservation lands in south Texas and a separate piece of land in northern Mexico. The Kickapoos are also the owners of the largest casino venue in the state of Texas.
Here are some quick facts about the Kickapoo Tribe:
- Name: The Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas
- Reservation location: Rosita South, just south of Eagle Pass, Texas
- Reservation size: 120 acres
- Year of federal recognition: 1983
- Gaming location? Yes, Kickapoo Lucky Eagle Casino Hotel
A brief history of the Kickapoos
The Kickapoos have existed as a recognizable group for hundreds of years. There are records of Kickapoo tribes interacting with European settlers in Michigan in the 1600s. At their core, the Kickapoos are part of the larger Algonquian group of tribes from the Great Lakes area. The tribe’s members are ethnically similar to Fox, Sauk and Shawnee people, and the tribe’s language is part of the Fox language group.
From Michigan, the Kickapoos gradually moved south toward Texas. They first appeared in what would become the Lone Star State in the 1830s, settling in a portion of what was northern Mexico. In fact, the tribe happened to cluster around an area bisected by the Rio Grande. After the events of 1836 rendered Texas a republic, the tribe’s members found themselves in an odd cross-border situation, as they had reasons to be on both sides of the now-international border.
The tribe finally gained lands of its own in 1852. The Mexican government granted a piece of land to the group in Nacimiento, Coahuila, within the municipality of Múzquiz. However, tribal members did not gain recognition or reservation lands on the US side of the border for more than 130 years. In the interim, the tribe lived in poverty. Its members famously camped in squalid conditions directly under the international bridge between Eagle Pass and Piedras Negras.
Federal recognition and the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act
The US government finally declared the tribe a federally recognized group in 1983, and the tribe moved onto its reservation lands in Rosita South in 1985. Three years later, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act made it possible for federally recognized tribes to offer gambling on tribal lands in various capacities. The Kickapoo Tribe took the opportunity to open a Class II gambling facility, the Kickapoo Lucky Eagle Casino Hotel.
The tribe itself continues to move between its lands in Mexico and Texas every year. For the most part, its main area is in Mexico, and many of its members spend significant time there for religious and cultural ceremonies. The tribe has received an informal OK from both the US and Mexican governments to move back and forth across the border to its two locations with much less scrutiny and interruption than most other border-crossers. In effect, the tribe’s members are dual citizens.
Nonetheless, the Kickapoo Tribe is one of the only true Native American tribes to call Texas home and the owners of the only truly legal gambling venue in the state.
The tribe and the state of Texas
The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 made it possible for federally recognized tribes to offer casino gambling on reservation lands. However, the act also sorted all gambling activities into three specific classes and assigned different levels of permission for each class. Class I is generally traditional Native American gambling that occurs as part of tribal practices and occasions, Class II tends to be bingo and games that you do not play against the house, and Class III games are everything else.
Tribes do not need anything from the state to offer Classes I and II. However, they must reach terms with the state on an agreement, known as a compact, to offer Class III gambling. The compact lays out the licensing and tax rates associated with each activity. Whether the compact ever sees the light of day or even comes up for negotiations is up to both parties, however. So far, Texas has refused to meet with the Kickapoos to discuss a compact.
Thus, the Lucky Eagle is a Class II facility, not a full-service casino. There is bingo, poker and electronic bingo on site. Electronic bingo machines are functionally identical to slot machines but use the outcome of lottery drawings to determine their winners and payouts. There are not and cannot be any true slot machines or table games at the Lucky Eagle without an agreement in place with the state of Texas.
Though the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas has lands in both Texas and Coahuila (Mexico), we are focusing on the lands in Texas. The piece of land that the Kickapoos own in the Lone Star State is a 120-acre parcel just outside of Eagle Pass. The reservation is nestled into a bend of the Rio Grande and forms part of the state’s border with Mexico.
Within the property, there are several improvements that serve both the public at large and the members of the tribe. Here are some of the businesses and buildings you’ll find on the reservation:
- Headquarters building
- Kickapoo Lucky Eagle Casino
- Kickapoo Lucky Eagle Convenience Store
- Kickapoo Empire (a construction firm)
- Kickapoo Wellness Center
- New Hope, Healing Grounds (a rehabilitation facility)
- Daycare center
- New Beginnings (career and life coaching)
- Educational services
- Other tribe member services
As more funds flow to the tribe from its various businesses, more services and improvements are likely to appear.
Kickapoo Lucky Eagle Casino Hotel
- Address: 794 Lucky Eagle Drive, Eagle Pass, TX 78852
- Hours of operation: Open 24 hours
- Games: Slots (electronic bingo), live poker and bingo
The Kickapoo Lucky Eagle Casino Hotel is the larger and more prominent of the two active casino locations in Texas. The Lucky Eagle is a Class II gambling venue, meaning that there are no true slot machines or table games available. The facility first opened as a group of what were, essentially, mobile buildings in 1996. Since then, the tribe has renovated the property twice — in 2004 and again in 2013 — and has created a permanent facility with an adjoining 250-room hotel. The resort currently employs roughly 700 people.
The Kickapoo casino has created benefits for both the tribe and the surrounding area, generating tens of millions in revenue each year for the tribe and its members. Although there are still challenges for the Kickapoo, the group has become one of the more positive success stories following the passage of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.
The casino itself offers electronic bingo, poker and a bingo hall. There are more than 3,300 electronic bingo machines to play, and you will likely not be able to tell the difference between these machines and regular slots.
The Lucky Eagle also offers the only truly legal poker room in Texas. It has roughly a dozen tables, with both limit and no-limit hold’em games. The games are typically low-limit, and it’s a good idea to call ahead to make sure that there is a game running before you go.
Third, Lucky Eagle patrons are able to play in the facility’s bingo hall five days a week. Each day features two afternoon/evening sessions. Bingo players can use their credit and debit cards to purchase card packs.
There are also several amenities for patrons of the resort. There are four restaurants, three bars and a food court on the property. One of the restaurants is an IHOP, which is a charmingly unusual option as a casino food vendor. In addition to these amenities, one of the bars, the ¿Qué Pasa? Lounge also serves as an entertainment venue that hosts a variety of musical acts. A 20-spot RV park is located on the casino grounds, too.
Is the Lucky Eagle Casino in Texas legal?
Yes. Because the Kickapoo Lucky Eagle Casino Hotel is situated on the lands of a federally recognized Native American tribe, it is a legal facility.
What is the age limit at the Lucky Eagle?
Twenty-one and older.
What is the nearest large city to the Kickapoo reservation?
Either Piedras Negras, Laredo or San Antonio. The nearest city or town of any size to the Kickapoo reservation in Piedras Negras, the mirror city to Eagle Pass directly across the border in Mexico, no more than 15 minutes from the Kickapoos.
If you mean a larger city, then it’s a toss-up between San Antonio on the Texan side of the border or the Laredo/Nuevo Laredo metroplex. The two areas are roughly equidistant from the reservation and are just over a two-hour drive for potential casino patrons.
Do the Kickapoos offer online gambling?
No. Barring any changes to the law, all gambling that the tribe may offer must occur on tribal lands, and there are no online options.
Would the Kickapoos be part of any gambling expansion in Texas?
Possibly. There were some conversations about including the tribe as part of sports betting expansion plans in 2021. Whether any future plans for sports betting, online gambling or anything else will include the tribe is unclear.