Amer­i­can In­dian tribe fights Texas to keep bingo cen­tre open

Cape Breton Post - - Business -

His­tor­i­cally averse to any­thing re­sem­bling casino-style gam­bling, Texas of­fi­cials are now go­ing af­ter a thriv­ing elec­tronic bingo cen­tre run by an Amer­i­can In­dian tribe nearly a year af­ter the ma­chines began fill­ing a rus­tic build­ing on his­toric land north of Hous­ton.

The Alabama-Coushatta tribe runs the Nask­ila Gam­ing en­ter­tain­ment cen­tre, named for their word for dog­wood trees that pop­u­late the Piney Woods of East Texas. The op­er­a­tion has so far cre­ated more than 400 jobs — in­clud­ing about 200 for the tribe’s 1,200 mem­bers — and added $5 mil­lion to the lo­cal econ­omy, said Car­los Bul­lock, a for­mer tribal coun­cil chair­man.

“We are in the fight for our fu­ture,’’ Bul­lock said. “This is some­thing, a rev­enue stream, that can help the tribe im­mensely.’’

But state at­tor­neys say the op­er­a­tion is il­le­gal. The state ar­gues the pres­ence of elec­tronic bingo ma­chines vi­o­lates an in­junc­tion from 15 years ago that closed a full-scale casino shortly af­ter the tribe opened it on the same site. The cen­tre — on land the tribe re­ceived through Texas hero Sam Hous­ton — is about 80 miles (129 kilo­me­tres) north­east of Hous­ton.

The state wants the tribe held in con­tempt and the 2002 in­junc­tion en­forced. A fed­eral court hear­ing is set for Thurs­day in Beau­mont.

“The ma­chines op­er­ated at Nask­ila are not a per­mis­si­ble form of ‘bingo’ and as a re­sult, still can­not be op­er­ated with­out state over­sight,’’ Anne Marie Mackin, an as­sis­tant Texas at­tor­ney gen­eral, said in a court fil­ing.

At­tor­neys for the tribe ar­gue the op­er­a­tion is le­gal un­der the U.S. In­dian Gam­ing Reg­u­la­tory Act, which was ap­proved by Congress in 1988 and gives reg­u­la­tion author­ity of gam­ing on Na­tive Amer­i­can lands to the three-mem­ber Na­tional In­dian Gam­ing Com­mis­sion. The 365 elec­tronic bingo ma­chines, known as Class 2 gam­bling, weren’t cov­ered in the 2002 in­junc­tion that halted slot ma­chines, black­jack and poker games, con­sid­ered Class 3 gam­bling, they con­tend.

“When we closed in 2002, we lost 300 jobs,’’ Bul­lock said. “That was a dif­fi­cult time for the tribe and tribal mem­bers, peo­ple who had be­gun re­ly­ing on that in­come. That’s what makes it so im­por­tant we do ev­ery­thing legally and cor­rectly be­cause we can’t af­ford to lose those jobs again.’’

How­ever, the Alaba­maCoushatta and another Texas tribe, the El Paso-based Tiguas, were fed­er­ally rec­og­nized through the Restora­tion Act passed by Congress a year ear­lier in 1987, and agreed to a pro­hi­bi­tion on gam­bling.

“A fluke of tim­ing,’’ Bul­lock said.

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