East Texas tribe wins major gaming victory in federal court
LIVINGSTON, Texas (KTRE) - After five years of litigation, the United States District Court in Beaumont ruled this week that the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas may legally operate its Naskila Gaming electronic bingo facility near Livingston, stating that such gaming is permissible under the Tribe’s 1987 Restoration Act.
The ruling from U.S. District Judge Keith Giblin is 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.
For years, the State of Texas has worked in court to close Naskila Gaming, even as tens of thousands of Texans, dozens of civic groups, and elected leaders from both parties have expressed strong support for allowing the Tribe to operate the facility.
“This ruling affirms that we have a legally sound right to support our Tribe by operating Naskila Gaming,” said Nita Battise, Chairperson of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas Tribal Council. “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.”
In 2015, the National Indian Gaming Commission (“NIGC”) approved the Tribe’s Class II Bingo Gaming Ordinance and found that the Tribe was eligible to game under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (“IGRA”), the federal law governing tribal gaming throughout the United States. Based on that approval, the Tribe opened Naskila Gaming in May 2016. A month later, the State of Texas filed a lawsuit seeking to shut Naskila Gaming down.
The Tribe fought back on two grounds. First, the Tribe argued that the decision of the NIGC to approve the Tribe’s gaming ordinance was entitled to deference by the courts and superseded a 1994 decision by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals that the Tribe’s right to game was not covered under IGRA but, rather, the Tribe’s Restoration Act. Second, the Tribe asserted that even if it was not covered under IGRA, the gaming being offered at Naskila was permitted under the Restoration Act.
In 2019, the Fifth Circuit agreed with the District Court’s opinion that the NIGC’s decision to approve the Tribe’s gaming ordinance was not entitled to deference and the ability of the Tribe to offer gaming is controlled by the Restoration Act. In May of this year, Judge Giblin heard testimony and legal arguments on why the Tribe’s electronic bingo was permissible under its Restoration Act.
On Tuesday, Judge Giblin found that the Restoration Act allows the Tribe to offer gaming that is not otherwise prohibited under Texas law and, further, the Restoration Act precludes Texas from exercising civil or criminal regulatory jurisdiction. Because bingo is regulated, not prohibited, in Texas, Judge Giblin ruled that the electronic bingo at Naskila Gaming is legal under the Restoration Act and not subject to the laws of Texas.
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.
Even as the legal process has played out, a bipartisan coalition of congressional representatives has been working in Washington to ensure Naskila Gaming can stay open. In May, the U.S. House of Representatives approved H.R. 2208, the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo and Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas Fair Opportunity Act. The legislation ensures that these two federally recognized Texas tribes are allowed to offer electronic bingo under IGRA.
The U.S. Senate has not acted upon H.R. 2208 and did not act upon similar legislation that the House approved two years ago. Over the last year, members of the public have sent more than 25,000 letters in support of Naskila Gaming to key statewide elected officials, including the state’s two U.S. Senators and Gov. Greg Abbott, who has repeatedly spoken out against legislation to keep Naskila Gaming open.
“It remains critical for Congress to take action and make clear that our Tribe is governed by IGRA,” Chairperson Battise said. “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.”
Chairperson Battise added, “The Alabama-Coushatta’s Tribe has a rich history in the state of Texas and Naskila plays a critical role in the cultural and economic life of Deep East Texas. We are grateful for the many community and civic organizations who have stepped forward to support the Tribe and protect the jobs Naskila provides.”
Copyright 2021 KLTV/KTRE. All rights reserved.