FederalIssuesU.S. Supreme Court Grants Appeal in Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo’s Tribal Gambling Case

For decades, the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo tribe has battled the State of Texas for the right to regulate its own electronic bingo.
October 25, 2021
An El Paso-area Indian tribe that has for decades sought the right to regulate its own gambling activities recently gained the attention of the nation’s high court.

The United States Supreme Court granted an appeal, also known as a writ of certiorari, on Monday, October 18 in a suit between the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo and the State of Texas over a 1994 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

According to the tribe’s court documents, the central issue in the case is whether the tribe has the right under its 1987 Restoration Act to regulate gambling activity that is not otherwise prohibited by Texas law, such as electronic bingo.

The tribe claims the Fifth Circuit’s ruling in 1994 improperly “grant[ed] Texas regulatory jurisdiction over non-prohibited gaming activities” on the Pueblo’s land as well as on the land of the Alabama-Coushatta (AC) Tribe of Texas.

In its opposition brief, the State of Texas framed the question as whether the tribe should be required to comply with federal and state law, suggesting that the tribe “developed buyer’s remorse” after agreeing to obey Texas gambling laws prior to the passage of the 1987 Restoration Act.

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“The question presented in the most recent chapter in this legal saga is whether the lower courts correctly held that the Tribe violated Texas public policy by operating a casino that offers thousands of ‘bingo’ devices that are designed to be virtually indistinguishable from Las-Vegas-style slot machines as well as 24-hour high-stakes, live-call bingo,” the brief reads.

Though charitable bingo is generally legal for licensed groups, there are still prerequisites such as local elections seeking voter approval. According to the Texas Lottery Commission, voters in 226 of the 254 counties in Texas have at least partially authorized charitable bingo and more than 1,300 entities are licensed.

The Pueblo’s attorney, Brant Martin, has characterized the suit as a referendum on the tribe’s right to self-governance.

“This is an important case involving the sovereignty and self-determination of Native American tribes, and the interpretation of federal statutes protecting those rights,” Martin told the El Paso Times. “We look forward to vindicating our clients’ position in the Supreme Court, and will have no further comment at this time.”

One of the cases referenced in the appeal is McGirt v. Oklahoma, in which the U.S. Supreme Court recognized sovereignty rights for Native American tribes in Oklahoma. It is unclear the role that decision will play in the court’s ruling here, but the topic of tribal sovereignty was broached in McGirt last year.

The AC Tribe has also been involved in litigation with the State of Texas over Naskila Gaming, an entertainment center in Livingston that offers electronic bingo. In September, federal Judge Keith Giblin in Beaumont handed the AC Tribe a victory when he ruled that it has the right to operate Naskila Gaming under the 1987 Restoration Act.

Legislation is currently pending in the U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee that would prevent federal law from being construed to limit the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which generally grants Indian tribes the right to offer bingo.

The Texas Constitution effectively prohibits casinos and most forms of gambling, except in limited circumstances such as charitable bingo and the Texas Lottery.

On November 2, Texans will vote on a proposed amendment to the Texas Constitution that would legalize charitable raffles at rodeos hosted by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association. Friday is the last day of early voting.

A copy of the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo’s petition for writ of certiorari can be found below.


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Hayden Sparks

Hayden Sparks is a senior reporter for The Texan and a lifelong resident of the Lone Star State. He has coached competitive speech and debate and has been involved in politics since a young age. One of Hayden's favorite quotes is by Sam Houston: "Texas has yet to learn submission to any oppression, come from what source it may."