The Tigua Indians in El Paso, Texas are weighing their options following U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone’s May ruling that the sweepstakes games offered at two Tigua entertainment centers are illegal lotteries on illegal gambling devices. Cardone said the tribe must remove the games by July 31 or face fines of 0,000 per day.
Tribal attorney Dolph Barnhouse said the tribe will comply with the ruling, but they may appeal or request that Cardone reconsider it. The tribe has some options, such as offering bingo which is legal in Texas. “The decision hasn’t been made yet. There are still things the tribe can do,” he said.
Cardone’s ruling was in response to the Tiguas’ motion to overturn an injunction against the sweepstakes games. The Texas Attorney General’s Office in 2009 claimed the games were illegal gambling and sought to shut them down. The tribe operated 1,000 sweepstakes games at its Speaking Rock Entertainment Center and 400 at its Socorro location. Barnhouse noted the Tiguas have used revenue from the entertainment centers to fund programs for veterans, education and the elderly.
Cardone also rejected the Tiguas’ argument that letters written last year by the U.S. Department of the Interior and the National Indian Gaming Commission supersede the federal 1987 Indian Restoration Act, which stated “All gaming activities which are prohibited by the laws of the State of Texas are hereby prohibited on the reservation and on lands” of the Tiguas and the Alabama-Coushattas.
In somewhat of a victory, however, Cardone said the court would no longer pre-approve games at tribal entertainment centers, which it has done since 2010. The judge wrote, “The court should not, and will not, undertake this role any longer. Instead, the Restoration Act provides a mechanism for addressing violations of its provisions. That mechanism requires Texas to bring suit in this court to challenge alleged violations of the act, and allows this court to enter an injunction, if warranted.” Barnhouse noted Cardone “sees the futility of the court acting as the regulatory body.”
Barnhouse said the Tiguas are monitoring the Alabama Coushatta Tribe, based in Livingston, which received identical letters as the Tiguas last year from the Interior Department and the NIGC. The tribe said the NIGC has the authority to regulate Class II gaming activities on the Tigua and Coushatta reservations. Barnhouse said the Coushattas have asked the Texas attorney general’s office for an assessment.