In a 5-4 decision on June 15, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the El Tigua Indians in El Paso, Texas can legally operate bingo-based games at its Speaking Rock Entertainment Center. The decision is a major victory for the Tiguas, also known as the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, who have been battling with the state of Texas over gambling for more than three decades. The ruling also is a victory for the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe, operators of Naskila Gaming in Livingston.
In 2020, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the Tiguas, resulting in the case going to the Supreme Court. A Texas district court allowed bingo games to continue at Speaking Rock while the tribe’s appeals moved forward. The case now will return to the appeals court to allow it “to revise its precedent and reconsider this case in the correct light.”
The appeals court has repeatedly sided with the state of Texas and the Supreme Court has passed on several opportunities to consider the dispute. But it agreed last year to hear the case at the urging of the Biden administration, which sided with the Tiguas. The high court heard oral arguments in the case in February.
The Tiguas said their games of chance at Speaking Rock Entertainment Center in El Paso’s Lower Valley are based on bingo, a game that is permitted and regulated in Texas. The state has argued that its laws on bingo prohibit the kind of games offered by the tribe.
In the majority opinion, Justice Neil M. Gorsuch wrote, “In this case, Texas contends that Congress expressly ordained that all of its gaming laws should be treated as surrogate federal law enforceable on the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo Reservation. In the end, however, we find no evidence Congress endowed state law with anything like the power Texas claims. If Texas thinks good governance requires a different set of rules, its appeals are better directed to those who make the laws than those charged with following them.”
The ruling does not mean Native American tribes can offer any games they choose within their lands. Gorsuch said, “None of this is to say that the tribe may offer gaming on whatever terms it wishes. The Restoration Act provides that a gaming activity prohibited by Texas law is also prohibited on tribal land as a matter of federal law. Other gaming activities are subject to tribal regulation and must conform to the terms and conditions set forth in federal law.”
In other words, the ruling does not expand the types of games tribes can offer on their lands, but it reaffirms their autonomy to regulate gambling activities that are not prohibited in Texas.
Ricky Sylestine, chair of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas’ Tribal Council, said, “The Court’s decision is an affirmation of tribal sovereignty and a victory for the Texas economy. The highest court in the land has made clear that our tribe has the right to legally operate electronic bingo on our reservation, just as we have the past six years.”
The ruling also opens up a lucrative market for suppliers.
In a statement, AGS Chief Executive Officer David Lopez said, “After an extremely long process in the judicial system, I would like to congratulate our Native American business partners and friends on their well-deserved win. This ruling makes it possible for these sovereign tribes to gain economic freedom and confirms their rights as federally recognized tribes. AGS stands by our tribal operator partners as they look to exercise their rights and wish them success in current and future ventures as sovereign tribes in the state of Texas. We are proud to support all our Native American partners throughout the country, and, in particular, these tribes that have fought so hard and so long in pursuit of their economic freedom.”