AUSTIN - The leaders of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas were on hand in Austin Thursday when State Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston) and State Rep. James White (R-Woodville) filed a House Joint Resolution calling for a constitutional amendment election to allow gaming on tribal lands.
Both representatives announced the filing at a press conference outside the House chambers in the State Capitol. Senator Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso) filed a companion resolution in the Senate Thursday.
"There are three federally recognized tribes in Texas. One is allowed to operate a casino and the other two are forbidden from doing so. I intend to right that wrong. Giving the Alabama-Coushatta and Ysleta del Sur Pueblo (also known as Tigua) tribes the authority to operate casinos will level the playing field and allow all Texas tribes to develop an economic engine that can drive a bright future for tribal families," said Thompson.
The resolution, if passed, would place a constitutional amendment on the ballot in November 2015, allowing all gaming operations on tribal land and dictating that five percent of the net proceeds go the state.
"Gaming would benefit the entire state, and especially benefit El Paso, in my Senate district," Rodriguez said. "In El Paso County, gaming by the Tigua Nation would provide jobs for the community, as well as valuable funds for health care, education, and other opportunities for the tribe.
"Statewide, full gaming would add another regional attraction; the more visitors we have, the more hotel nights, restaurant patrons and shoppers we have. The state currently is engaged in a budgeting debate, and seeking additional revenue sources. Well, here is an opportunity to do just that, an opportunity that more than two dozen states, including our neighbors in Oklahoma, already have taken," the senator added.
The Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas have seen a tremendous economic growth to its reservations and to the City of Eagle Pass since the opening of their Lucky Eagle Casino in 1996. They are proof positive that tribal gaming can be a win-win, Thompson and Rodriguez noted.
"This is not a new issue nor is it a move to expand the footprint of gaming in Texas," Thompson said. "I have supported efforts to bring gaming opportunities to Texas racetracks in the past and I will be supportive of any future efforts. But it is time to have a tribal-only proposal in Texas. Both the Alabama-Coushatta and Tigua Tribes deserve the same chance to build a strong healthy, economy for their tribes and contribute to the economic development of the counties and cities surrounding their tribal lands."
"I am proud to joint author this resolution with Rep. Thompson," White added. "We worked on it together in the past and we will continue to push for parity for Texas tribes. I am confident that the Alabama-Coushatta tribe in my district, given the chance, would run a successful business with integrity."
Under the proposal, the responsibility for regulating tribal gaming operations would not be borne by the state of Texas. The tribes would submit their gaming ordinances to the assistant secretary for Indian affairs at the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) and all gaming operations would be regulated by DOI. Approximately 240 tribes across the nation operate gaming facilities.
The Alabama-Coushatta Tribe has seen proof of that economic boost. In 2001, the Tribe opened a small gaming facility on its reservation located near Livingston. The Tribe was able to employ more than 300 people throughout Southeast Texas.
The tribal unemployment rate dropped from more than 33 percent to under 10 percent. Formerly, many employees were on some form of government assistance and had found it very difficult to find work. Employees of the gaming operation were also provided above average wages for the area, and full health benefits. Nine months after opening the Tribe was forced, by court order, to shutter its casino doors.
In addition to providing employment, the revenue generated allowed the Tribe to complete large infrastructure projects for wastewater treatment, expand health and educational facilities and add acreage to the reservation.
"The Tribe has been dependent on government subsidies for many years and for a few short months in 2001 and 2002, the Tribe was able to see what true economic independence could look like. The goal of our tribal leaders is to provide for the welfare of our tribal members, as well as generate a self-sustaining economy so that our families can continue to contribute to our community. If this proposal passes it would be a giant step toward meeting that goal," said Nita Battise chairwoman of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribal Council.