By Valerie Reddell
LUFKIN — Judge Keith F. Giblin signed an order Feb. 24, granting a motion by the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas to delay any action related to a Feb 6 ruling that found that the Restoration Act governs gaming on the tribe's land in Polk and Tyler counties.
In essence, the order means Naskila Entertainment Center can remain open during the appeal and cancels a hearing set for Wednesday, Feb. 28 on contempt issues filed by the State of Texas.
"We are grateful that the court has granted the Tribe's motion to stay pending appeal. This means that Naskila Gaming will remain open during the appeal process, which can take anywhere from 12 to 16 months," said Jo Ann Battise, Chairperson of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribal Council. "This is wonderful news for the immediate future of the 330 employees whose families' livelihood depends on Naskila Gaming."
"As suggested in Judge Giblin's Order, protecting these Naskila jobs, pending appeal, avoids residual negative impact on the local economy. It is also critically important to the Tribe's ability to improve the quality of life for our people by providing more housing, healthcare and educational services. We will not rest while appealing the state's lawsuit against the Tribe. We will continue the fight
for fairness," Battise said.
"On Feb. 8, Congressman Brian Babin (R-36) filed a bill, HR 4985, relating to our ability to offer electronic bingo entertainment that will restore an opportunity for economic development on terms that are equal and fair with other federally recognized tribes in Texas, Battise added. "We will advocate vigorously for passage of this bill."
The court's memorandum opinion and order acknowledge that the circumstances of the case present a serious legal question.
Ultimately, the final decision will determine whether the tribe is subject to the authority of the National Indian Gaming Commission or the State of Texas.
"The Tribe has also advanced a number of legitimate legal arguments which – although declined by this Court – are sufficient to at least present a substantial argument on the merits on appeal," Giblin said in the order.
Giblin also found that the balance of equities tilt in the tribe's favor when considering whether to issue a stay.
The order cites the positive economic impact of Naskila through its employment of 318 people — 87 of whom are tribal members.
"The Tribe also points to evidence indicating that if the Court orders Naskila closed, these individuals will lose their employment and that the local economy cannot supply comparable employment to those affected," Giblin wrote.