East Texas Tribe Wins Game Victory in U.S. District Court

A Beaumont U.S. District Court judge sided with the Alabama-Coushatta tribe of Texas in their five-year legal battle over their right to host games on their land in Livingston.

Judge Keith Giblin ruled that the tribe-operated Naskila Gaming electronic bingo facility was legal under the Restoration Act of 1987 – dispelling opposition posed by state officials like the Texas Attorney General , Ken Paxton.

The future of the bingo facility has been in limbo since 2016 after the state of Texas filed a lawsuit to shut it down about a month after it opened.

“This is not only a victory for the citizens of our tribe, but also for the hundreds of families who depend on Naskila Gaming for their livelihood and for the economic health of East Texas,” Nita Battise, President of the Texas Tribal Council’s Alabama-Coushatta tribe said in a statement. “The continuation of the activities of Naskila Gaming is vital to the economic success of the community that we proudly call home. “

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Alabama-Coushatta and another Texas tribe have sought legal and legislative solutions to the state’s opposition to tribal games, but the problem dates back decades and dates back to now-controversial initiatives to remove the tribes. federal recognition.

In the late 1960s, Alabama-Coushatta and Ysleta del Sur Pueblo saw their federal recognition terminated under a series of policies called “Indian Termination,” and regulatory responsibilities were transferred. in the state.

After years of prosecution and a congressional push by former El Paso Congressman Ronald Coleman, they were restored to federal jurisdiction in 1987.

In Giblin’s decision, he found that the Restoration Act allows Alabama-Coushatta to offer bingo because it is regulated, not prohibited, in Texas, and federal law ultimately means Texas cannot exercise. its civil or criminal regulatory jurisdiction.

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Paxton and Texas Governor Greg Abbott have argued in court and publicly that allowing tribes to have any type of gambling facility compromises the state’s right to enforce its own laws. .

“I strongly encourage Congress to reject this attempt to restrict Texas’ power to regulate activities within its borders,” Abbott wrote in his 2019 letter to Congress, opposing a bill on playing clarification from Rep. Brian Babin, R-Woodville.

The traditional Kickapoo tribe of Texas is the only tribe remaining in Texas with the undisputed right to host electronic games on their lands.

Battise said Giblin’s decision was a stubborn victory for the tribe, but that she fully expects an appeal and further legal action from the state.

That’s why tribal leaders continue to rally the support of East Texas politicians and community members to propel congressional legislation that will finally end any possibility of state intervention.

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For the second year in a row, a bipartisan bill has been introduced to ensure that the Alabama-Coushatta tribe is covered by India’s Gaming Regulation Act and blocked in the Senate without a vote.

This time the bill was introduced by U.S. Representative Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, and U.S. Representative Tony Gonzales, R-San Antonio, but it essentially echoed a similar bill tabled in 2019 by Babin. .

More than 70 elected leaders, businesses and community groups sent letters earlier in the year in support of the legislation. The letters were read when the bill was introduced in the House.

Alabama-Coushatta executives said clarifying federal gambling clearance would protect 700 jobs in east Texas.

“It remains essential that Congress take action and make it clear that our tribe is governed by the (Indian Gaming Regulatory Act),” Battise said in a statement. “While we expected the state to appeal Judge Giblin’s ruling, congressional action can provide the swift and final resolution needed to ensure the stability of our tribe and communities in East Texas. “

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Harold Shirley

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