The last time we spoke to the Alabama-Coushatta tribe about their fight with the state, DETCOG and virtually all the surrounding had pledged their support for the tribe.
The State of Texas is trying to shut down Naskila Gaming, a Class II Indian Gaming facility.
Class II gaming is electronic bingo, or slot machines, Class III gaming would involve table games such as poker, roulette, craps, blackjack and so on.
The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 allows Indian reservations to have these types of facilities.
Despite this the state has not backed down.
“They’re saying that the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act does not apply to us and we’re saying yes it does,” said Cecilia Flores, Alabama-Coushatta Tribal Chairwoman. “So that’s what we want cleared up by this bill, HR 759.”
H.R. 759 was authored by Congressman Brian Babin.
Babin lived and practiced dentistry in Woodville and has known the tribe for 40 years.
“They opened this thing up about three years ago and the State of Texas has come after them,” said Rep. Brian Babin. “After studying this thing I said this is just simply not right.”
When Congressman Babin was elected in 2014 Alabama-Coushatta contacted him about building a gaming facility.
At first the congressman was unsure saying he is not a gambler, but still, he did his research.
“This is economic development, this is jobs, this is something that is really helping this tribe out,” said Rep. Babin.
A recent study showed Naskila Gaming injects nearly $140 million every year into the local economy.
Congressman Babin cited Class II gaming facility at the Traditional Kickapoo Tribe of Texas, and how it has been open since 1996 with no interference from the state as the main reasoning for the bill.
“It’s a matter of fairness, that’s what this bill is all about,” said Rep. Babin. “Treat the Alabama-Coushatta the way the Kickapoo Tribe of Texas is being treated.”
The bill recently passed in the first committee.
“We’re confident in the house floor that it would pass,” said Flores. “Now it moves on to the senate and that’s where we’ll have our biggest challenge.”
Despite the bill advancing tribal leaders aren’t sitting back and waiting.
They know they still have a long way to go and a lot of work to do.
“We’re being very proactive,” said Flores. “We’ve got a digital campaign going on, we’ve got our on the ground outreach going on, we’re in DC knocking on doors to senators and congressman, we have to be proactive in this. Last year we weren’t as proactive and the bill died “
Recently Senator John Cornyn made a stop at a fundraiser in Tyler County where he met Flores and other tribal leaders.
This gave the Alabama-Coushatta the chance to speak with their senator face to face about their current battle.
“My comment to him was ‘Senator Cornyn we’re confident that it will pass in the house and if it goes to the senate we would like for you to support our bill’,” said Flores. “His comment back to me was ‘if it comes out of the house I will support it in the senate’. He added too that we’ve got to work on the governor.”
In 2002 the Alabama-Coushatta had a Class III gaming facility, not allowed in the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, and the state shut them down.
Interestingly Senator Cornyn was serving as the Texas Attorney General at the time.
“That came up in our conversation and he said ‘yes but that was a different time’ he said that doesn’t have any impact these days,” said Flores.
Though their support continues, the Alabama-Coushatta suspect the biggest challenge is yet to come.