By The Enterprise
Published 4:04 pm, Wednesday, February 14, 2018
A week after a federal judge ruled the Alabama-Coushatta must shut down their gambling operations, U.S. Rep. Brian Babin introduced legislation that would permit the tribe’s popular electronic bingo hall east of Woodville to stay open.
The bill, co-sponsored by Babin and representatives from Alaska, Arizona and California, attempts to address a conflict between state and federal law by clarifying that electronic bingo on tribal land is permitted under the federal 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.
The Alabama-Coushatta Tribe has operated Naskila Gaming, a facility with more than 360 electronic bingo games, since May 2016 with the approval of the National Indian Gaming Commission, a federal regulatory agency.
Three months after the gaming center opened, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton petitioned a federal court to close the site between Woodville and Livingston on the grounds it violated the federal 1987 Indian Restoration Act. That law gave Indian tribes federally recognized status but included language barring them from engaging in gambling activities on their lands.
U.S. Magistrate Keith Giblin ruled last week that the tribe is violating state gaming laws and must cease operations, though he wrote that he had “sympathy for the Tribe’s position” because it is “bearing the brunt of a conflicting statutory scheme” that some might call “unjust.”
The Alabama-Coushatta Tribe filed an appeal with the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals immediately after receiving Giblin’s ruling.
The 24-hour operation remained open Wednesday.
Babin, who said in a statement that he “was surprised” by last week’s ruling, said it “has put hundreds of jobs in jeopardy.”
Calling it “a fairness issue,” Babin said his bill “would ensure the Alabama-Coushatta tribe receives the same treatment that the federal government extends to other tribes” under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.
According to a statement by the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe, the Traditional Kickapoo Tribe of Texas has offered electronic bingo under the Indian gaming act since 1996 without objection from the state.
“There is no justification for a federal regulatory system that allows one tribe to offer gaming and forbids another from doing so, but that is the situation we have in Texas today,” said Jo Ann Battise, Tribal Chairperson for the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe.
Battise said the bingo hall generates an annual payroll and benefits for 330 employees of almost $17 million.
In his August 2016 motion asking that the gaming site be closed, Paxton requested the court force Naskila Gaming to pay a $10,000-per-day civil fine for every day the center had been open since June 2, 2016.
That fine would be more than $5 million today.
Giblin wrote in his order last week that the court “defers request for damages and fees” until after a hearing later this month.