FederalIssuesJudicialU.S. Supreme Court Bars Texas From Interfering With Tribal Bingo After Decades of Litigation

The Tiguas have been fighting in court for decades to offer electronic bingo that is not subject to regulation by the State of Texas.
June 20, 2022
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An El Paso area Native American tribe won a decades-long awaited victory in the U.S. Supreme Court last week after justices decided 5 to 4 that Texas cannot prevent the tribe from operating bingo machines and regulating them on its own terms.

The Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, also known as Tiguas, challenged a 28-year-old decision by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals that subjected the Pueblo’s gambling activities to regulation by the State of Texas.

Led by Justice Neil Gorsuch, who authored the majority opinion, the nation’s high court reasoned that the lower court had erred in its interpretation of the tribe’s 1987 Restoration Act and other federal laws. Much of the controversy in the case came down to hairsplitting about the difference between “prohibit” and “regulate.”

Texas contended that bingo is a prohibited activity, which consequently barred the Tiguas from offering it at their entertainment venue. On the other hand, the Tiguas argued that Texas allows bingo under certain circumstances, which means it’s fair game for the tribe. 

Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, and Amy Coney Barrett joined Gorsuch in his opinion favoring the Tiguas.

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Chief Justice John Roberts, joined by Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Brett Kavanaugh, issued a dissenting opinion.

The high court granted an appeal in the case last October and oral argument took place in April.

Sen. César Blanco (D-El Paso) celebrated the decision in a post on social media, framing it as a win for the independence of the tribe and economic development.

“This SCOTUS decision is a major victory for the Tiguas & their sovereignty! The decision will allow the tribe to legally operate bingo-based games, supporting hundreds of jobs & enriching the lives [within] the tribe,” Blanco tweeted.

Another one of Texas’ federally recognized tribes, the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas, has also quarreled with the State of Texas to offer gambling at Naskila Gaming, its entertainment center in Livingston.

A federal judge in Beaumont decided in the AC Tribe’s favor last September. 

The Texas Constitution prohibits most forms of gambling, though bingo is permitted on a limited basis along with other exceptions.

A copy of the Supreme Court’s decision in the tribal gambling case can be found below.

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Hayden Sparks

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.