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Tribe staying active at state capitol

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Sen. Robert Nichols (center) stands with members of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas during Alabama-Coushatta Day at the State Capitol on Feb. 7. Courtesy photoSen. Robert Nichols (center) stands with members of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas during Alabama-Coushatta Day at the State Capitol on Feb. 7. Courtesy photo

From Enterprise Staff

Citizens of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas are taking an active role in this year’s session of the Texas Legislature to increase awareness of the tribe and the widespread economic benefit provided by Naskila Casino.

On March 22, Nita Battise, vice-chairperson of the Alabama Coushatta Tribe of Texas’ Tribal Council, testified before the Texas House State Affairs Committee at the Texas Capitol in Austin. The committee was holding a hearing on House Joint Resolution 155 and House Bill 2843, both of which propose allowing destination casinos in Texas similar to those in Las Vegas.

Battise emphasized that any expansion of gaming in Texas should include the state’s three federally recognized tribes, all of which currently operate electronic bingo facilities on their reservations.

“Any gaming compact between the Texas federally recognized Indian Tribes must address the issue of revenue sharing and explicitly provide for zones of exclusivity for tribal gaming operations,” Battise said. “The reason that any revenue sharing with the state must be modest and tribes must be afforded meaningful zones of exclusivity is because tribal gaming operations use their gaming revenue to fund the vital governmental needs of our tribes.”

To her point, the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas uses its gaming revenue to improve and provide housing for tribal citizens, assist with medical expenses, support its tribal police and fire departments, assist tribal elders, and to cover post-high school education costs of tribal members. Moreover, a recent study by the Texas Forest County Partnership found that Naskila Casino on the Alabama-Coushatta Reservation is responsible for more than 800 jobs and injects approximately $212 million dollars annually into the economy of Polk County.

Pursuant to federal law, tribes that want to offer Las Vegas-style gaming can only do so if the tribes enter into a tribal-state gaming compact with their state governor. Rep. Mary Gonzalez of El Paso has introduced HJR 156, which would require Governor Greg Abbott to enter into state gaming contracts with the three Texas tribes. HJR 156 has not yet been scheduled for a legislative hearing.

The March 22 hearing was not the only time the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas has made its presence felt at the Texas Capitol this year. The Tribe celebrated its Capitol Day on Feb. 7, inviting legislators to a lunch on the Capitol grounds with the tribal council, tribal citizens and other elected leaders from Deep East Texas. The tribe was recognized in the Texas Senate by Sen. Robert Nichols and in the Texas House of Representatives by Rep. Trent Ashby.

“We are proud to be engaged with our elected leaders at the local, state and federal level,” Tribal Council Chairman Ricky Sylestine said. “Our tribe wants to continue to work with legislators to ensure that we are treated fairly and we can continue to provide a significant economic benefit to our tribal citizens and Deep East Texas.”

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