Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas
On Friday, Nineteen members of the Texas Congressional Delegation sent U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) a letter calling on him to allow H.R. 759, the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo and Alabama and Coushatta Tribes of Texas Equal and Fair Opportunity Settlement Act, to be heard by the U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee. The legislation, which clarifies the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas (“Tribe”) and the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo (“Pueblo”) are permitted to offer electronic bingo on their tribal lands under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (“IGRA”), was unanimously passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on July 24, 2019. Because Senator Cornyn asked the Senate not to consider the legislation, it has been stalled for over a year.
“We are grateful elected members of the U.S. House from Texas have called on Senator Cornyn to end his opposition to H.R. 759 and allow the bill to have a hearing in the Senate,” said Alabama-Coushatta Chairwoman Cecilia Flores. “Now, more than ever, the over 1700 jobs and $645 million in annual economic stimulus created by the electronic bingo facilities operated by our Tribe and the Pueblo must be protected,” added Flores.
In 2015, the National Indian Gaming Commission (“NIGC”), approved the gaming ordinances to allow the Tribe and the Pueblo to operate electronic bingo facilities on their reservations. The National Indian Gaming Commission is the federal agency that oversees and regulates tribal gaming on nearly 250 tribal reservations across the nation. Following the 2015 approval by the National Indian Gaming Commission, the Texas Attorney General brought suit to shut down the bingo facilities, asserting a 1994 United States Fifth Circuit of Appeals decision that said federal legislation that restored federal recognition for both the Tribe and Pueblo was in conflict with Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. The 1994 decision has led to decades of litigation between Texas and both the Tribe and Pueblo. Congressman Brian Babin introduced H.R. 759 to resolve the conflict and finally establish the right of the Tribe and Pueblo to offer gaming under Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. The Traditional Kickapoo Tribe, the only other federally recognized tribe in Texas, has offered electronic bingo under Indian Gaming Regulatory Act on its reservation near Eagle Pass since 1996 without objection from the State of Texas.
The Tribe’s Naskila bingo facility, which opened its doors in 2016, is the second largest employer in Polk County. In East Texas alone, the facility is responsible for over 700 direct and indirect jobs, with 70% of Naskila employees being non-tribal. Additionally, Naskila has proven to be an economic multiplier in the region, with a recent study by the Texas Forest Country Partnership, estimating that it generates over $170 million annually to the economy of East Texas. Likewise, the Pueblo’s Speaking Rock bingo facility has a similar economic impact in the El Paso region, creating approximately 1000 jobs and $475 million in annual economic stimulus. Unfortunately, without action in the Senate to enact H.R. 759, these jobs and the economic impact are at risk. For this reason, 19 members of the Texas delegation signed the letter to Senator Cornyn, believing that during the current economic crisis facing Texas, the delegation should be looking at all options that will help Texans provide for their families.
This is not the first-time Senator Cornyn has heard from elected officials regarding H.R. 759. On June 30, twelve East Texas state and local elected officials ran an open letter in the Austin
American-Statesman, the Dallas Morning News, Houston Chronicle, and the Beaumont Enterprise calling on Cornyn to end his opposition to the legislation. According to the officials, the jobs and economic stimulus created by the Tribe’s electronic bingo facility are vital to the economic future and recovery of East Texas, especially after the harm visited on the region by the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the Tribe temporarily closed its Naskila bingo facility in March in response to the pandemic, it has continued to pay its employees and maintain their health insurance.
“I read recently that Senator Cornyn introduced S. 4041, a bill to provide relief to Texas’ energy companies in order for them to maintain their workforces during the pandemic,” noted Chairwoman Flores. “I do not understand why the Senator is willing to help protect jobs in the Permian Basin, while affirmatively blocking the effort to save jobs in East Texas and El Paso. During these unprecedented times, I would hope the Senator would recognize that ALL Texas families deserve to know that he cares about them and is willing to fight to save their jobs as well,” concluded Flores.