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Texas tribes win Supreme Court case

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SylestineRicky Sylestine, chairman of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas

By Emily Banks Wooten
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The U.S. Supreme Court has issued its ruling in a case brought by the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, a tribe in El Paso, related to electronic bingo on federally recognized tribal lands in Texas. Because the Pueblo and the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas had their federal recognition restored in the same act of congress, the Court’s decision impacts the Pueblo and the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe equally.  

In a 5-4 decision Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled that federal law does not prohibit gaming on tribal lands if that type of gaming is not prohibited by state law. Therefore, because the two tribes offer electronic bingo, and bingo is not prohibited under Texas law, the Court vacated an earlier decision from the Fifth U.S. Circuit saying that the tribes could not offer electronic bingo. Wednesday’s decision sends the case back to the Fifth Circuit.

“The Court’s decision is an affirmation of tribal sovereignty and a victory for the Texas economy. The highest court in the land has made clear that our tribe has the right to legally operate electronic bingo on our reservation, just as we have the past six years,” Ricky Sylestine, chairman of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas’ Tribal Council, said.

The issue before the court was whether the two tribes can offer electronic bingo under a federal law known as the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. The Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas has offered electronic bingo at Naskila Gaming for the last six years. Some 700 jobs are tied to Naskila Gaming, making this case extremely consequential for the East Texas economy.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in February from Ysleta del Sur Pueblo and from the State of Texas, which has argued that Ysleta del Sur Pueblo and the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas do not have the authority to offer electronic bingo on their reservations. 

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