The United State Supreme Court agreed Monday to hear arguments in a case that could make clear that two federally recognized tribes in Texas — Ysleta del Sur Pueblo and the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas — are allowed to operate electronic bingo facilities on their reservations.
The Court agreed to hear Ysleta del Sur Pueblo’s request to overturn a 1994 Fifth Circuit decision finding that the Pueblo and the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe are ineligible to offer gaming under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (“IGRA”). Instead, the Fifth Circuit found that the ability of the two tribes to offer gaming is controlled by the 1987 act of Congress that restored federal recognition for both Nations. Since that decision, the state of Texas has actively sought to block all attempts by either the Pueblo or Tribe to offer gaming under IGRA, a 1988 federal statute enacted by Congress to regulate the conduct of gaming on federal Indian lands.
The Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas currently operates Naskila Gaming, an electronic bingo facility, on its reservation in Deep East Texas.
“The Supreme Court said today that it wants to hear from our Nations,” said Nita Battise, Chairperson of the Tribal Council of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas. “This is a positive and significant development because it means the highest court in the land is willing to weigh in on what we feel has been decades of disparate treatment that has unfairly impacted our Tribe and the Pueblo. A positive ruling from the Supreme Court could provide the economic security we have long sought for our Tribe, employees of Naskila Gaming and the East Texas community.”
In 2016, the Pueblo opened a bingo facility in El Paso, offering the same type of electronic bingo games that the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas located near Eagle Pass has offered on its lands since 1996. Thereafter, the state Texas filed suit against the Pueblo, arguing that under the 1994 Fifth Circuit decision the Pueblo, unlike the Kickapoo Tribe, was prohibited from offering bingo under IGRA. In an April 2020 ruling, a panel of the Fifth Circuit panel sided with the state; it is this same ruling that the Supreme Court agreed to review Monday.
In a separate case, this past August a federal judge in Beaumont agreed with the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe that it could legally offer electronic bingo at its Naskila Gaming facility under the Tribe’s 1987 Restoration Act.
Despite the state’s longtime effort to close the facility, Naskila Gaming enjoys broad, bipartisan support among Texans. More than 80 civic, community and business groups have formally approved resolutions support Naskila Gaming. Earlier this year, the U.S. House of Representatives approved bipartisan legislation saying that the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas and Pueblo should be governed under IGRA — legislation that would effectively stop the state’s efforts to close the facilities. That legislation, H.R. 2208, has not yet been acted upon by the U.S. Senate.
“Recent legal decisions have been very encouraging, but we still need the U.S. Congress to complete its work on H.R. 2208 to provide fairness and certainty for our Tribe,” Chairperson Battise said. “We are grateful for all of the community supporters who have stood by us as we have battled against the state’s efforts to take away the jobs at Naskila Gaming.”
Naskila Gaming is the second-largest employer in Polk County. Some 700 jobs are tied directly or indirectly to Naskila Gaming, as well as over $170 million in annual economic stimulus, making its long-term stability essential to the economic future of East Texas.