Bill Aims to Include Texas Tribes Under Indian Gaming Regulatory Act

Texas tribes may soon benefit from inclusion under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). US Rep. Morgan Luttrell introduced a bill to ensure all federally recognized tribes eligible for gaming activities are regulated under the IGRA.

Luttrell, R-Texas, introduced HR2873, or the Tribal Gaming Regulatory Compliance Act (TGRCA), in the House in late April.

He said in an April 26 statement:

I’m proud to have introduced Ysleta del Sur Pueblo and Alabama-Coushatta Tribes of Texas Fair Tribal Gaming Act to ensure equal opportunity in economic growth and job development across the Tribes.

By ensuring the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe is in-fact [sic] covered under IGRA, it will allow the Tribe to continue to invest in the surrounding community and provide for essential government services on the reservation. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate to get this bipartisan bill signed into law.

Bipartisan Texas US House members Brian Babin, Veronica Escobar, and Marc A. Veasey joined Luttrell in introducing HR2873. Also, Chuck Edwards, R-North Carolina, Melanie Stansbury, D-New Mexico, and Doug LaMalfa, R-California, cosponsored the bill.

Supreme Court Entrenches Texas Tribes Class ll Gaming Rights

Most federally recognized tribes are already included under IGRA, but Texas is an anomaly.

In 1968, the State of Texas was handed trust responsibilities for the Tiguas of the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo.

However, in the 1980s, the state renounced those responsibilities. Consequently, the federal government reassumed oversight of the Ysleta and Alabama-Coushatta tribes under the Restoration Act of 1987. The IGRA came into effect elsewhere in 1988.

Under the Restoration Act, tribes could not offer any gaming prohibited by the state. Still, the Ysleta repeatedly and unsuccessfully attempted to negotiate Class lll (or full casino) gaming.

Then, beginning in the 1990s, the Yselta started offering Class ll gaming at the Nation’s Speaking Rock Casino. (Class ll gaming doesn’t require a state compact under the Restoration Act.)

However, the operation (and others) faced numerous legal challenges. As a result, the casino closed on multiple occasions.

Most recently, in 2016, the tribe began offering electronic bingo at the renamed Speaking Rock Entertainment Center. The move reopened a can of worms, and Texas shut down the bingo operations again through a district court decision.

The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit initially upheld that decision. However, a divided Supreme Court reversed the ruling last year.

That result solidifies the state’s right to determine what gambling is permitted in Texas. However, it does not have the power to regulate those activities on tribal land.

Since the ruling, Speaking Rock and other tribal gaming locations like Naskila Casino in East Texas have maintained regular operations.

Had the IGRA included the Texas-based tribe(s) initially, the bingo clash would have been a non-issue from the start.

Tribes Hope for Inclusion Under IGRA Regulations

“Tribal Nations in Texas should be regulated no differently than anywhere else,” said Larry Wright, Jr., in a statement.

Wright, the executive director of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), added:

Many Tribal Nations rely on gaming to fund the infrastructure and services their communities need, and it is important that all Tribal Nations offering gaming are treated equally and regulated under the same federal framework.

This includes both the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas and Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, each of which should be regulated no differently than any other Tribal Nations [sic] anywhere throughout the United States, so that they, too, can engage in gaming operations that are critically important to their people and their communities.

For their part, the tribes in question agree.

“Naskila Casino is a proven engine of economic activity for Deep East Texas,” said Ricky Sylestine, Tribal council chair for the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe.

Naskila, said Sylestine, is responsible for 825 permanent jobs and more than $200 million annually.

He added:

We are grateful that Congressman Morgan Luttrell and other Texans in Congress are working to protect the economic well-being of our region and the sustainability of our Tribe. The United States Supreme Court and United States District Court – Eastern District of Texas have affirmed and upheld our right to offer electronic bingo on our Reservation and now we hope that Congress will put us under the same regulatory framework as other tribes across the country.

However, getting anything through Congress these days can be a feat. Whether this legislation has what it takes to make it remains to be determined.

About the Author

Robyn McNeil

Robyn McNeil

Robyn McNeil (she/they) is a Nova Scotia-based writer and editor, and a lead writer at Bonus. Here she focuses on news relevant to online casinos, while specializing in responsible gambling coverage, legislative developments, gambling regulations, and industry-related legal fights.
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