Texas Tribes Closer to Offering Gambling, Bill Passes US House

A bipartisan bill filed by Texans seeks to address an irregularity dating back to 1988 which deprived two Texas Indian tribes of the opportunity to offer gambling on tribal land.

1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act

The Ysleta del Sur Pueblo from the El Paso area, also known as the Tigua, and Alabama-Coushatta from East Texas were the only Indian nations left out of the scope of the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act which allowed federally recognized tribes to develop gambling facilities and profit from the activities accordingly.

“The problem that we are trying to address is really a fundamental equity and parity issue.”

Rep. Veronica Escobar

The legislation which opened up economic development opportunities for Native American communities passed a year after the Alabama-Coushatta agreed to prohibit gambling on tribal land to be able to receive federal recognition, and now tribal leaders argue this was a price too steep to pay, depriving their communities of a vital source of revenue.

The bill, sponsored by Democrats Rep. Veronica Escobar from El Paso and Rep. Henry Cuellar of Laredo and Republican Rep. Tony Gonzales with a district stretching from San Antonio to El Paso, is looking to rectify the situation and expand gambling for the two federally recognized Indian nations.

“It is really incomprehensible and should be incomprehensible to everyone as to why two tribes in the state of Texas have been left out of the same opportunity and the same level of operation that every other federally recognized tribes have been able to operate under.”

Rep. Veronica Escobar

Seeking to Restore Parity

The Ysleta del Sur Pueblo and Alabama-Coushatta Tribes of Texas Equal and Fair Opportunity Act addresses disparity by allowing the two tribes to offer electronic bingo on tribal land and thus, create hundreds of new jobs and generate millions of dollars of revenue.

The bill easily passed through the US House, as lawmakers found it so uncontroversial they decided to vote via voice, but is facing a serious test in the Senate, where it is unclear whether it will gain enough support to eventually become a law.

Strong opposition can be expected from Gov. Greg Abbott who reminds us that the state’s Constitution prohibits gambling, and so far, the Texas legislature rejected attempts to introduce gambling expansion.

Bill co-sponsor Escobar noted she would lobby two of the Texas senators known to be opposing the measure, Sen. John Cornyn and Sen. Ted Cruz, to receive their support as the bill “needs to pass; there’s no reason why it shouldn’t”.

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