By Ricky Sylestine
Chairman of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas Tribal Council
The past year has been full of promise and opportunity for the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas’ effort to keep our Naskila Gaming electronic bingo facility open. We have seen positive movement in the courts and in the halls of the United States Congress, but our fight is far from over.
All of these moving pieces can be difficult to follow. Given the many questions we have received, I want to explain where we are in this quest and what needs to happen next.
For many years, the State of Texas has been fighting in court to close Naskila Gaming. If the state succeeds, our Tribe will have to close Naskila, 700 jobs will go away, and Polk County will lose its second-largest employer. Furthermore, our Tribe will lose our clearest path to long-term sustainability and self-determination. This is why we and our supporters have fought so hard for our right to operate this facility. We believe that we have the right to operate Naskila Gaming under federal law and prior court rulings, and we know the benefits of this facility reverberate throughout our region.
Last year, a federal judge in Beaumont ruled that the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas may legally operate Naskila Gaming, saying that the electronic bingo operated at the facility is permissible under the federal Restoration Act passed in 1987. Many supporters heard about this decision and assumed that the future of Naskila was secure.
However, Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office has appealed that decision from last year. Further, that appeal is subject to a ruling in a separate court case: a case that another Texas tribe, Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, has filed against the state. The Pueblo, like our Tribe, is fighting for the right to operate electronic bingo under federal law. That case is currently before the U.S. Supreme Court and a decision could come within weeks. If the Court sides with the Pueblo, it could finally clear the way for both of our tribes to operate our electronic bingo facilities without any further state interference.
Of course, a court ruling can take many different shapes. A partially favorable ruling, for instance, may not end this case. That’s why the best way to save 700 jobs at Naskila Gaming and secure the future of our Tribe is for the U.S. Congress to act.
Last year, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 2208 with overwhelming bipartisan support. This legislation would clarify the federal law under which our Tribe’s gaming is regulated, which would secure our right to operate Naskila Gaming and end the state’s efforts to shut it down. However, the Senate has not acted on this bill. Senators have until the end of this year to pass H.R. 2208 and save 700 Texas jobs, but it would be better for them to act sooner rather than later.
More than 80 business and civic groups have voiced formal support for Naskila’s continued existence and more than 30,000 visitors to Naskila have sent our senators letters urging them to save the facility. We need more Texans to call on Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz to preserve these Texas jobs. If they hear from enough of their Texas constituents, perhaps our senators will step in and save this major engine of economic activity in East Texas.
That’s where our supporters come in. We thank you for all that you’ve done to get us to this point and we ask you to keep going by contacting our senators and urging them to save Naskila Gaming. We may ultimately win the court cases that are now pending, but we know the clearest path to a resolution is for the U.S. Senate to act. Until then, our push to save Naskila Gaming continues.
Or, to put it in a language that all of us speak in East Texas, we’ve picked up a couple of first downs, but the winning touchdown has not yet been scored.