The Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, also known as the Tigua, is one of the three federally recognized tribes in Texas. This page contains information about the tribe and what it could offer Texas gamblers.
The Ysleta del Sur Pueblo is also the only one of the three tribes not to have a gambling location open at this time. Although the Tiguas operated the Speaking Rock Casino between 1993 and 2002, pressure from the state led to its closure, and the Tiguas haven’t found a way to reopen the facility, at least not yet.
In fact, in June 2022 the tribe’s attorneys won a major victory for the tribe at the US Supreme Court. There’s no word as yet about how this ruling will change the outlook for the Tiguas to operate a gambling location. In the meantime, the tribe offers a live music venue in the former casino building and other services on its tribal lands near El Paso.
This page covers the history of the tribe, its current status, and what might be coming in the near future.
- Name: Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, aka Tigua (pronounced “tiwa”)
- Reservation location: El Paso
- Reservation size: ~2,700 acres
- Year of federal recognition: 1987
- Gambling location open? No
The history of the tribe’s federal recognition
The Ysleta del Sur Pueblo’s journey to federal recognition was a difficult one. The tribe has occupied the El Paso area for hundreds of years and can trace its settlement in the area back to a 17th-century displacement by the Spanish, who owned Mexico at the time. Although the times have never been easy, the last hundred years provided some particular challenges for the Tiguas. At the heart of the struggle was the US government’s policy of Indian termination.
Despite its rather dire-sounding name, Indian termination was a series of moves by the government to sever the relationship between it and Native American tribes around the country. The first move occurred with the passage of the Kansas Act of 1940, after which the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo tribe lost its federal status as part of a large swath of terminations in early 1954. The Tiguas’ fellow Texas tribe, the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas, underwent the same process.
Termination was a critical blow because it eliminated the tribe as a sovereign group in the eyes of the government. That meant its reservation lands were not protected, and members of the tribe could not claim any particular benefits. Although the Texas government moved to recognize the Tiguas as a tribal group on the state level in 1967, it didn’t carry the same advantages. The federal government relinquished any claim to the tribe the following year.
Finally, in 1987, a Texas congressman named Ronald Coleman authored the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo and Alabama and Coushatta Indian Tribes of Texas Restoration Act (H.R.318), which renamed the group to its current moniker and restored the tribe to full recognition. The Tiguas were once again able to secure tribal lands under federal trust, and they have remained on those lands in the El Paso area ever since.
The Tiguas and the state of Texas
The Restoration Act contained a particular clause that laid the groundwork for a long period of struggle between the Tiguas and the state of Texas. Specifically, it forbade the tribe from offering gambling that was otherwise illegal under state law. At the time of the law’s passage, the clause was of little concern. However, the situation changed dramatically the following year when the federal government passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988.
The act allowed federally recognized tribes to offer various forms of gambling on tribal lands. Full-bore casino gambling required an agreement with the state government, but lesser forms of gambling, including bingo and poker card games, did not. The Tiguas wanted to take advantage of this newfound eligibility, and in 1993 opened the Speaking Rock Casino. The location offered bingo and electronic bingo, which were legal as Class II games under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.
Unfortunately, the clause in the Restoration Act caused trouble for the tribe because the electronic bingo machines were, in effect, slot machines. Texas had no law on the books for allowing slot machines and did not permit bingo games to proceed around the clock. Thus, the state took the tribe to court to argue the violation and succeeded in having the Speaking Rock shut down in 2002, nine years after its debut.
The court defeat meant the tribe lost one of its primary sources of income. By some estimates, the casino had brought $150 million to the region’s economy through 1999, and in 2000 alone it generated $60 million in revenue. It’s no surprise, then, that the closure began a decades-long legal battle that is still unsettled.
The tribe did win a court victory in 2015, but subsequent setbacks forced the Tiguas to appeal and argue their case in front of the US Supreme Court in 2022, where they finally earned the victory we mentioned above. The ruling once again lets the tribe offer Class II gambling if it wishes, although its timeline for doing so is unclear.
The Ysleta del Sur Pueblo Reservation is located along the US-Mexico border, roughly 15 miles east-southeast of El Paso. It is the closest tribal reservation to a major metropolitan center in Texas and is an integrated portion of the El Paso metropolitan area. In fact, the tribe’s lands are in a “checkerboard” configuration and are not one continuous piece of land. Instead, the federal government holds about 2,700 total acres in trust for the tribe.
Within those acres are several tribal facilities. One of the most prominent of these is the Speaking Rock Entertainment Center, the entertainment venue that was once an electronic bingo parlor. With the recent Supreme Court ruling, it is possible that Speaking Rock will once again become a site for tribal gaming.
Other facilities on lands that the tribe owns include the following:
- Cultural Center
- Ysleta Mission
- Tigua Smoke Shop
- Tigua Inc.
- Tigua Community Development Organization
- Recreation and Wellness Center
- Judicial Facility
- Sacred Connections (behavioral health)
- Tribal Empowerment (child development and education)
- Public Safety (fire, police)
In addition to these facilities and services, the Tiguas also offers two recreation areas for rental and entertainment. Chilicote Ranch is more than 70,000 acres in Presidio and Jeff Davis Counties and provides facilities for hunting and other outdoor activity. Hueco Tanks is a park in El Paso County that is a place of prayer and reflection for the Tiguas.
Speaking Rock Entertainment Center (non-gambling)
- Address: 122 S. Old Pueblo Road, El Paso, TX 79907
- Hours of operation: 24 hours a day
- Games available: n/a
Speaking Rock Casino opened as an electronic bingo facility in 1993. At the time, it provided employment and economic support for tribal members. The facility remained in operation until its acrimonious closure in 2002 due to pressure from state government officials. Over the next several years, the venue saw only sporadic use before finally reopening in 2016 as a non-gambling entertainment venue hosting live music shows and other attractions.
Is gambling available on Ysleta del Sur Pueblo tribal lands?
No. There is no legal gambling available on Ysleta del Sur Pueblo lands at this time.
Will gambling become available in the future on the reservation?
Probably. The tribe’s June 2022 victory at the US Supreme Court affirmed its right to offer bingo on tribal lands. It’s hard to believe that the tribe would go to all that expense and trouble only to demur on offering bingo games. There’s no timeline for a launch, but it’s probably a question of when more than if at this point.
What is the nearest Texas city to the reservation?
El Paso. The Ysleta del Sur Pueblo reservation is part of the El Paso metropolitan area and is essentially a suburb of the largest city in west Texas.
Will I be able to play anything online when and if the Tiguas launch gambling?
Almost certainly not. Although the tribe has prevailed in court to offer games on its own lands, that win does not allow for wagering across the entire state. The state government’s fight against the tribe’s modest designs and expansion plans does not bode well for the Tiguas finding a sympathetic ear for any gambling apps.
Why would I play here instead of crossing the border and going to Sunland Park?
For one thing, keeping your gambling money inside Texas is good for both the El Paso area and the economy of the state itself. One way or another, it is better if dollars don’t cross into New Mexico from Texas. You might also consider it a show of support for the tribe, which has worked to offer these services to El Pasoans for almost 20 years. That kind of dedication might be worth a visit or two, even if you usually have a comfortable routine at Sunland.