In a press statement on Wednesday, the tribe called the ruling “a major victory for the future of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe, the hundreds of people employed at Naskila, and the economic stability of the East Texas region.”
According to the tribe, Naskila Gaming is the second largest employer in Polk County, employs 700 people, and spurs $170 million in “annual economic stimulus.”
“This ruling affirms that we have a legally sound right to support our Tribe by operating Naskila Gaming,” said the AC Tribe’s tribal council chairperson, Nita Battise.
“This is not only a win 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. The continued operation of Naskila Gaming is vital to the economic success of the community we proudly call home.”
The State of Texas has been trying to shut down Naskila Gaming since right after it opened in 2016. In addition, Governor Greg Abbott opposed federal legislation introduced in 2019 by Congressman Brian Babin (R-TX-36) to protect the gaming center because it would “restrict Texas’ power to regulate activities within its borders.”
Part of the controversy is whether or not the AC Tribe and another federally-recognized tribe, Ysleta del Sur Pueblo in the El Paso area, are allowed to regulate their own electronic bingo, which is generally permitted under Texas law.
The federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 allows Native American tribes to regulate their own gambling activities as long as they do not run afoul of what is otherwise legal.
United States District Judge Keith Giblin ruled that Naskila Gaming is legal under a different federal law, the AC Tribe’s 1987 Restoration Act.
The tribe continues to advocate H.R. 2208, a bill in the United States Congress intended to place the AC Tribe and the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo on the same playing field as the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas, which operates the Kickapoo Lucky Eagle Casino near Eagle Pass.
H.R. 2208 has passed the United States House but has been awaiting consideration by the United States Senate Committee on Indian Affairs since May.
On the subject of federal legislation like H.R. 2208, Battise said it is “critical for Congress to take action.”
“While we expect the state to appeal the decision from Judge Giblin, congressional action can provide the swift and definitive resolution needed to provide stability for our Tribe and the communities throughout East Texas,” the chairperson said.
During the 87th legislature, some Texas lawmakers considered proposals to legalize casinos with house-banked card games and traditional slot machines; however, none of the casino bills or sports wagering proposals made it to the finish line.
Some skeptics of legalizing commercial casinos are concerned about the potential impact on Texas’ three federally-recognized Indian tribes in the event that they are excluded from the expansion of gaming laws.
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Hayden Sparks is a reporter for The Texan. He has coached high school competitive speech and debate and has also been involved in community theater and politics. A native Texan, Hayden served as a delegate at the Republican Party of Texas Convention in 2016. He is on track to receive a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Liberty University. In his free time, Hayden is known to take walks around the neighborhood while listening to random music on Spotify.