American Indian tribe fights Texas to keep bingo centre open
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.