Texas Tribes Could Reopen Casinos

Texas Attorney General Kenneth Paxton has filed a lawsuit to stop the Texas Tigua (Speaking Rock casino at left) and the Alabama-Coushatta tribes from reopen their casinos, both closed by the state 13 years ago, even though the Interior Department and the National Indian Gaming Commission ruled the tribes may legally operate casinos on their reservations.

In Texas, two federally recognized tribes have been pursuing gaming for years: the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo Tribe, also known as the Texas Tigua Tribe, located near El Paso, and the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe, located 74 miles north of Houston. However, in attaining recognition in 1987, the two tribes were restricted to offering any tribal gaming that also is legal under Texas state law. Texas law never has specifically authorized gaming and state Attorney General Kenneth Paxton intends to keep it that way, even though in late October with a decision by the Department of the Interior and the National Indian Gaming Commission ruled that both tribes have a legal right under federal law to operate Class II gaming facilities on tribal lands.

The Texas Tigua Tribe opened Speaking Rock Casino in 1993, as tribes in other states started opening casinos and Texas voters approved a state lottery in 1991. But in 1999, the state attorney general filed suit against the tribe and a federal court ruled in 2002 that the Speaking Rock Casino must close. Ever since, the tribe’s efforts to reopen have been blocked by numerous federal court rulings.

The Alabama-Coushatta Tribe also operated a casino on their reservation. Opened in 2001, it operated for nine months before it also was shut down by Texas authorities.

With the recent NIGC ruling, both tribes now are planning to reopen their casinos. But Paxton still considers casino gambling illegal. He stated that position in a recent court filing responding to a federal court’s a request for comments on the Tiguas case. The Alabama-Coushatta Tribe currently is not included in the state’s lawsuit against the Tiguas. Paxton’s 26-page brief referenced 25 court cases and discussed eight “issues” of concern to the state, in particular whether or not the NIGC and the Interior Department even had the right to issue opinions on gaming. “If Congress has explicitly left a gap for an agency to fill, there is an express delegation of authority to the agency to elucidate a specific provision of the statute. Here there is no gap. The only issues presented are legal issues for this court. Congress delegated no power or authority to either federal agency to interpret laws or invalidate portions of federal law,” he wrote.

U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone, meanwhile, issued an order requiring the Tiguas and other parties to the lawsuit to file their briefs on the federal agency’s decision.

Alabama-Coushatta spokesman Carlos Bullock said, “We’re moving forward, but there are a lot of hurdles we have to get over with the National Indian Gaming Commission and with public stuff. It’s slower than we’d intended, but we’re making sure we’re doing everything by the book and we’ve been in contact with the National Indian Gaming Commission every step of the way to make sure we’re doing things correctly. We never want to go through what we did the last time where we’d hired 300 people, and then we had to lay them off. That really hurt our tribe. But that’s not going to happen this time. In the end, we can’t know for sure what the state is going to do, but we’re moving ahead.”