By Chris Edwards
LIVINGSTON – A recent request by U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-Austin) was met with disappointment by the Alabama-Coushatta tribe.
Cornyn delivered a letter to the U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee requesting the committee postpone hearings regarding House Resolution 759 on Oct. 9. The legislation, authored by Rep. Brian Babin (R-Woodville) will, if passed, allow the A-C tribe to continue operating its Naskila Gaming venue, which features Class II gaming.
The bill has drawn bipartisan support and was approved by the House Committee on Natural Resources in July. Tribal Chairwoman Cecilia Flores was recently in Washington, D.C., along with tribal council members. While there, they met with staffers from the offices of Cornyn and Sen. Ted Cruz and worked toward getting a hearing scheduled for the bill.
Flores, in a statement released on behalf of the tribe, said “Senator Cornyn’s letter represents the latest in a series of delays by some Texas elected officials, who appear to be prioritizing politics over equality for the state’s Native American tribes, as well as jobs and economic growth in East Texas.”
In his letter, Cornyn refers to concerns posed by Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton about the bill. “[C]urrent federal law prohibits gambling on tribal lands unless authorized by the State of Texas,” Cornyn’s letter reads.
Under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, passed in 1988, Native American tribes are allowed to operate bingo games and seek compacts with their respective state governments to host other forms of gaming. In 2002, a federal judge shut down the A-C tribe’s Alabama-Coushatta Entertainment Center. At that time Cornyn served as the state’s AG.
Cornyn also referenced the Yselta del Sur Pueblo tribute of El Paso (also known as the Tigua tribe) in his letter. That tribe’s gaming facility will also be protected under the legislation if it is passed.
Cornyn’s request calls for postponing any committee hearings concerning the legislation until the Texas government and the two tribes have reached a resolution or agreement.
Since it opened in 2016, the gaming center offers electronic bingo-style gaming to more than one million visitors annually, as well as contributing $150 million to the regional economy each year. The gaming center currently employs 410 people, 30 percent of whom are tribal members.
The linchpin cause of Babin’s briefly worded resolution is equality. H.R. 759 works to provide the same protections and fairness to the A-C and Tigua tribes that has been afforded the Kickapoo tribe in Eagle Pass, which has offered Class II electronic bingo gaming for more than 20 years.
“H.R. 759 is not about expanding bingo but rather, it is about fairness and equality,” the statement from the tribe reads.
Flores added “By not fixing this conflict at the federal level and allowing only one tribe out of three to offer electronic bingo, the State of Texas is picking winners and losers. This is about leveling the playing field and working together to drive economic impact for our communities and for Texas.”
In addition to the jobs at Naskila and the economic impact from the center’s operations, the tribe has been able to add more jobs to the workforce through other operations on the reservation and have expanded healthcare opportunities for the tribe with an expanded clinic and full-time doctor.
Recently the tribe filed a petition asking the U.S. Supreme Court for help. In the petition, the tribe asked SCOTUS to recognize its sovereign rights over state law in order to keep Naskila open.
Along with support from many legislators, Babin’s legislation has picked up resolutions of support from more than 50 different organizations in the East Texas region, including county commissioners’ courts, chambers of commerce and city councils.
Polk County Judge Sydney Murphy was quoted in the tribe’s statement: “We strongly urge Sen. Cornyn to support legislation that requires ALL Texas Tribes be treated equally, protects East Texas jobs and drives economic prosperity for Texas.”