Texas Tribal Gaming Makes Headway In D.C. 

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Two Texas tribes could be offering limited e-gaming  — without going to the State of Texas for approval — under legislation that has advanced to the U.S. Senate after passing the House on Wednesday.

The 19-word bill sponsored by Congresswoman Veronica Escobar of El Paso would allow the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo and Alabama-Coushatta tribes to offer e-bingo by including them in the IGRA (federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act). 

That 1988 federal law allows Class II gaming, such as e-bingo, if the state where a federally recognized tribe is located allows bingo. Texas has allowed the playing of bingo under its constitution since 1980. 

Texas sports betting and Vegas-style casino games, all classified as Class III gaming, would not be allowed under the proposal. Class III gaming must be agreed to by the state through a tribal-state gaming compact, something that the short House bill does not address. 

State proposals to put legalization of sports betting and expanded casinos before Texas voters this fall have faced opposition from key Texas state lawmakers and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick this spring. The legislation has since stalled, making it unlikely that it will pass before the current legislative session ends on May 31. 

A Brief History Of Texas Gambling

Legal gambling under Texas law includes betting on horse and greyhound races, plus limited social gambling including bingo. That has allowed the state’s only other federally recognized tribe, the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe, to operate e-bingo at its Eagle Pass casino under the IGRA since 1996. 

The Ysleta del Sur Pueblo tribe and Alabama-Coushatta tribe  — both of which agreed to gambling prohibitions under federal law that legally recognized them in 1987 — were not grandfathered in by the IGRA when it passed in 1988.

Escobar says the purpose of her bill is to fix that issue by creating “parity with the only other federally recognized tribe in Texas, the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas.” 

The Ysleta del Sur Pueblo Tribe operates the Speaking Rock Entertainment Center in El Paso, while the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe operates Naskila Gaming in Livingston. Both tribes have historically been involved in litigation with the state over their gaming operations. 

What’s Next

Escobar has repeatedly emphasized that her proposal — supported largely by East Texas Republicans — would not expand gaming in Texas. Its only purpose is to recognize the two tribes under the IGRA and allow the tribes to offer e-bingo on their reservations, she says.

That’s “something the only other federally recognized tribe in Texas has been doing since 1996 without interference from Texas,” says Escobar.

The Escobar bill faces a battle in the U.S. Senate, where Sen. John Cornyn of Texas has made it clear that he will fight the legislation. Cornyn has joined with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Patrick, and a few other Texas officials in speaking against the bill which they claim would bypass state oversight. 

About the Author
Rebecca Hanchett

Rebecca Hanchett

Writer and Contributor
Rebecca Hanchett is a political writer based in Kentucky's Bluegrass region who covers legislative developments at Gaming Today. She worked as a public affairs specialist for 23 years at the Kentucky State Capitol. A University of Kentucky grad, she has been known to watch UK basketball from time to time.

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