U.S. House passes bill to protect East Texas jobs

H.R. 2208 would provide needed certainty for jobs on Tribal lands

Patrons at Naskila Gaming in Polk County play electronic games.

The U.S. House of Representatives voted Wednesday to provide economic stability for hundreds of East Texas families by approving legislation to keep Naskila Gaming open and operating on the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas reservation near Livingston.

The House gave overwhelming bipartisan passage Wednesday to H.R. 2208, the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo and Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas Fair Opportunity Act. The legislation ensures that these two federally recognized Texas tribes are allowed to offer electronic bingo under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. Currently, these tribes are governed under different federal law, which has prompted the State of Texas to spend years in court arguing they are not allowed to offer gaming.

The Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas offers electronic bingo at Naskila Gaming, which is the second-largest employer in Polk County. Some 700 jobs are tied directly or indirectly to Naskila, as well as over $170 million in annual economic stimulus, making its long-term stability essential to the economic future of East Texas.

“This bill is critical to the future of our Tribes and all of our neighbors in East Texas,” said Nita Battise, Chairwoman of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas Tribal Council. “We are grateful to have cleared this first major hurdle and look forward to working with our senators to get this passed into law. Hundreds of families are counting on this bill for their livelihoods.”

The House passed similar legislation in 2019, but that bill was never acted upon by the U.S. Senate. This year’s version of the bill was introduced last month by Reps. Veronica Escobar, a Democrat from El Paso, and Tony Gonzales, a Republican from San Antonio.

“We are grateful to Congresswoman Escobar and Congressman Gonzales for their bipartisan leadership,” Chairwoman Battise said. “We also remain grateful to Congressman Brian Babin, who has been a consistent champion for this legislation and for the hundreds of Texans who work at Naskila.”

The effort to protect Naskila enjoys overwhelming public support. More than 70 Texas business and civic organizations have approved statements in support of legislation such as H.R. 2208. Last fall, some 18,000 visitors to Naskila sent letters in support of the facility to U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz.

The third federally recognized tribe in Texas, the Kickapoo Tribe near Eagle Pass, is already governed under IGRA and also offers electronic bingo.

“We want the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas to be treated fairly,” said Polk County Judge Sydney Murphy, a Republican. “This legislation will protect one of the most important engines of economic activity in our region. Supporting this bill is about supporting East Texas jobs.”

H.R. 2208 will now head to the U.S. Senate. Similar legislation stalled there two years ago after Sen. Cornyn and Gov. Greg Abbott spoke out against it.

“We are asking the Governor and our senators to put Texans ahead of politics,” Chairwoman Battise said. “This bill is about protecting jobs and providing a fair and level playing field for all Texas tribes. East Texas has strongly supported Governor Abbott, Senator Cornyn and Senator Cruz. Now we need them to support East Texas.” 

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