By Albert Trevino
INDIAN VILLAGE -- The Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas officially announced that it will seek congressional action this year to address potential challenges to continue operating Naskila Gaming on tribal lands.
The tribe is citing an extensive survey that reflects a high percentage of regional public support for both the Alabama-Coushatta community and the Naskila Gaming facility. Tribe officials believe the level of approval leads the way to seek congressional support and action to ensure the gaming facility can remain open long-term.
The state currently is challenging the Tribe's right to operate the gaming facility in federal court.
The study, conducted in August by Ragnar Research Partners, represented an overwhelming support among likely Republican primary voters for the tribe to continue its electronic bingo operation without interference from the state.
Overall, 76 percent of respondents said they support the electronic bingo games on the Alabama-Coushatta reservation near Livingston. The survey focused on the 10 counties in Congressional District 36.
Tribe officials are seeking federal legislation that will affirm its standing under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA.)
In a public statement released last week, Tribal Council Chairperson Jo Ann Battise said it was important for the tribe to conduct a scientific survey before moving forward with its efforts in Washington.
"We want to be a good neighbor, and we needed confirmation from the citizens of the area that they liked what they have seen in the last two years," said Battise in the official statement. "We have been overwhelmed by the show of support, and we're very grateful."
The survey reflects approval across all categories of Republican voters, from "very conservative" to "moderate." A similar showing appears with different denominations of Christians.
While 66 percent of respondents support electronic bingo on Indian reservations, those numbers spike up to 76 percent when asked specifically about the Alabama-Coushatta's gaming facility.
Similar numbers are reported in approval for federal legislation that would allow the tribe to continue operating electronic bingo games on its reservation.
"We are pursuing a federal solution in a very thoughtful, deliberative fashion." said Battise. "From the very beginning, we've had significant support from our immediate neighbors. We wanted to confirm that there is wider regional support. This is why we commissioned this poll last summer. We are very pleased with the results and want to kick off 2018 by releasing it publicly."
Battise added, "We have continued a very active community outreach program and I would not be surprised if those numbers have climbed even higher since the poll was conducted."
The poll further represented the following levels of support for Naskila:
East Texas (including Polk and Tyler counties): 75 percent support, 13 percent oppose
Liberty-Chambers counties: 82 percent support, 6 percent oppose
Harris County: 73 percent support, 6 percent oppose
Very Conservative: 73 percent support; 12 percent oppose
Moderate/Liberal: 85 percent support; 6 percent oppose
Baptist: 76 percent support, 8 percent oppose
Catholic: 79 percent support, 6 percent oppose
Naskila Gaming, opened in May 2016, currently provides 330 jobs, with more than half of the employees being non-tribal members. The annual payroll reportedly exceeds $10 million, with healthcare benefits for employees and their families.
The company has reportedly invested more than $14 million in capital costs and estimates it will spend upwards of $17 million every year in the future for operations and capital investment.
"We have been blessed with great success at Naskila Gaming." Battise said. "Every quarter the number of visitors from all over the start increases. Just as we predicted, given the chance, guests will spend their entertainment dollars in Texas. This has truly been a transforming venture for the tribe because the new revenue stream allows our Tribal Government to increase the budget for all of the health, education, housing and social services for our people."