From Enterprise Staff
The Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas wants Governor Greg Abbott to visit the tribe’s reservation east of town on Hwy. 190 to learn more about the tribe’s role in East Texas. However, the governor and his staff have been unresponsive to the tribe’s invitations.
The governor has not shown support for Naskila Gaming, the electronic bingo facility the tribe operates on its reservation that provides jobs to some 700 East Texans. Additionally, he has paid little attention to more than 15,000 Texans who have written and submitted letters to his office urging him to support Naskila Gaming and the vital role it plays in the East Texas economy.
In a June 2022 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its opinion in Ysleta de! Sur Pueblo v. Texas, holding that the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe and Ysleta del Sur Pueblo (Pueblo) of El Paso can offer bingo free from the State of Texas’ gaming regulations. In so doing, the Court overturned a 1994 Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals decision that said the Pueblo and Tribe were not permitted to offer gaming under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) and that the gaming laws and regulations of Texas applied to tribal lands. Although the state had argued for years that the two tribes could not offer electronic bingo, the Supreme Court ruled that electronic bingo was permissible because state law does not prohibit bingo. The following month, the Texas Attorney General’s Office formally withdrew its intention to appeal a similarly decided case in a Beaumont-based federal court.
Still, the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas has long sought to be treated like more than 200 other federally recognized tribes currently offering gaming under IGRA, including the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas. In recent years the U.S. House of Representatives has repeatedly passed legislation that would ensure the tribe is governed under IGRA. However, the U.S. Senate has not acted on the legislation. Abbott has stated his opposition to similar Senate legislation and submitted a letter urging a Senate committee not to act on it.
“In light of these recent court decisions, and the nations’ continued good faith efforts to conduct gaming in accordance with the terms of their Restoration Act, the tribe would like to invite you to its reservation to see firsthand the positive impacts of its Naskila Gaming facility on the tribe and region,” Ricky Sylestine, Chairman of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas Tribal Council, wrote the governor in a letter in July asking that he visit the reservation. Neither Abbott, nor his office ever replied.
“We would love to have a dialogue with Governor Abbott regarding the purpose of our legislative efforts and the importance of these jobs, but he has not expressed interest in communicating with us,” Sylestine said. “We understand that the governor is extremely busy and is working on a number of issues important to the state of Texans. However, Naskila Gaming has been a major employer in East Texas and his continuous opposition to our efforts is concerning to our employees and tribal citizens.”
Polk County Judge Sydney Murphy said the tribe and the county have forged a partnership that has proven beneficial to residents of East Texas over the years. In addition, more than 80 civic and business groups have approved resolutions voicing support for the tribe and Naskila Gaming in recent years, and more than 15,000 visitors to the facility have signed letters to the governor urging him to support the tribe.
“Naskila Gaming has provided tremendous job opportunities, enhanced economic development, and improved quality of life for its team members, its guests, and the entire community,” Murphy said. “I would encourage Governor Abbott to visit Naskila Gaming to learn more about the tribe’s vital role in our East Texas economy and way of life.”
Sylestine added, “We urge the governor to listen to the people of Texas. Our neighbors throughout East Texas support Naskila Gaming and appreciate its importance to the local economy. We wish Governor Abbott would make time to visit our reservation, learn more about our tribe and Naskila, and listen to the people who work here each day to support themselves and their families.”
Editor’s note – After calling the governor’s office and speaking to a staff member, we were referred to an email address. We submitted our questions via the said email address but as of press time, have not received a response from the governor’s office.