By Acee Agoyo
A bipartisan bill recognizing the sovereign rights of two tribes in Texas and placing them on the same footing as just about every other Indian nation when it comes to gaming is moving forward.
The House Committee on Natural Resources approved H.R.759, the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo and Alabama-Coushatta Tribes of Texas Equal and Fair Opportunity Settlement Act, by a voice vote at a markup session on Wednesday. Supporters note that the bill is backed by Democrats, Republicans and the even the Trump administration.
“Of the three federally recognized tribes in the state of Texas, only one is allowed to have Class II gaming on its reservation, creating a situation of fundamental unfairness and inequality,” said Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Arizona), the chairman of the committee.
Grijalva was referring to the Kickapoo Tribe, whose government operates a casino on its homelands, free of interference from Texas. The same can’t be said for the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe and the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, also known as the Tigua Tribe, whose gaming operations have been repeatedly targeted by the state.
“The legislation remedies this issue and ends the second-class status by putting all three tribes on equal footing,” said Grijalva.
But while the bill enjoys broad support in Washington, D.C., Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) pointed out that the state of Texas opposes it. For that reason, he was the sole lawmaker who opposed passage. “That’s just my personal reason,” said Bishop, who is the highest-ranking Republican on the panel, who stressed that he wasn’t urging fellow Republicans to oppose the measure. H.R.759 was introduced by a Republican, Rep. Brian Babin (R-Texas), and the bill is co-sponsored by a dozen other members of the party.
One of the unlikely supporters is Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Arizona). “No tribe should be treated undifferently in this aspect,” said Gosar. Just last month, he tried to derail a different Indian Country bill and unsuccessfully tried to amend it to bar Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe from operating a casino on its homelands.
Action on the bill comes after both tribes suffered setbacks in court. On March 14, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals said the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe cannot operate a gaming facility on its reservation due to restrictive language in its federal recognition law. A month prior, a federal judge ruled against the Tigua Tribe on the same grounds.
Both tribes were restored to recognition in 1987, when Congress corrected a termination-era law that had placed both under the supervision of the state. . A year later, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act became law but its benefits haven’t reached all tribal nations. “That’s the law and I think it should be applied fairly,” Gosar asserted on Wednesday. Approval of H.R.759 at the committee level means it can be considered on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. The Democratic-controlled chamber has passed six stand-alone Indian Country bills since January, and those with bipartisan support are usually cleared with little to no controversy, Gosar’s efforts last month notwithstanding. Prospects in the U.S. Senate, which is in Republican hands, are less certain.
Notably, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), when he served as attorney general of Texas, was in charge of the litigation that led to the closure of the Alabama-Coushatta and Tigua gaming facilities in 2002. As a member of the GOP’s leadership team in the chamber, he wields considerable power over legislative matters. At the time, both tribes were offering Class III games, such as slot machines, on their reservations. Neither had signed a Class III gaming compact with the state, which is usually required in such situations.
The tribes have since switched to Class II games, such as bingo and electronic versions of bingo. Under IGRA, these types of games can be offered in Indian Country free of state interference — that’s why the Kickapoo Tribe’s Lucky Eagle Casino continues to operate.
But the courts have not recognized the distinction in ruling against the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe’s Naskila Gaming and the Tigua Tribe’s Speaking Rock Entertainment Center. Following the appeals court ruling, the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe petitioned the 5th Circuit to rehear the case but the . Chairperson Cecilia Flores has previously vowed to take the fight all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“There are 371 full-time jobs at stake, and we have a moral obligation to fight for every one of the people working at Naskila Gaming. Our alcohol-free facility is making a significant difference in the lives of East Texans and we will continue to pursue every legal avenue to continue operating Naskila Gaming on our tribal lands,” Flores said in March.
The mandate in the case was issued June 3, starting the clock on the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe’s potential appeal to the highest court in the land. Historically, the Supreme Court has shied from accepting Indian gaming cases.
This article was republished from the original on Indianz.com