By Chris Edwards
LIVINGSTON – “Definitely hopeful” is how Alabama-Coushatta Tribal Chairwoman Cecilia Flores sees the future of Naskila Gaming and the bill that will clarify the tribe’s ability to conduct gaming on its land.
Flores has been speaking to groups around the state about the gaming center and the tribe’s fight to keep it open. “We are trying to get the word out, trying to tell our story, and tell how important this is to East Texas,” she said.
Since it opened in June 2016, Naskila has had a positive impact on the regional economy, Flores said, and she predicts that effect will continue if the tribe is allowed to keep the venue in operation. At present, a bill concerning Class II gaming, is awaiting movement in the U.S. Senate.
If passed, House Resolution 759, which was authored by Rep. Brian Babin (R-Woodville) will allow the tribe to offer bingo-style gaming at Naskila and will “clarify that without any doubts that the tribes fall under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act,” Flores said.
The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, passed in 1988, allows Native American tribes to operate bingo games and to seek compacts with their respective state governments in order to host other types of gaming. H.R. 759 would not only protect the Alabama-Coushattas, but the Yselta del Sur Pueblo tribe of El Paso (also known as the Tiguas) who also operate a gaming facility on tribal land.
The tribe has until the end of the year before the clock runs out on the bill. Flores said that with the bill pending in the Senate, she is hopeful both Texas senators will come to support it. She said that although presentations on Naskila and H.R. 759 have been well-received, and the public has been “overwhelmingly” supportive, there has been opposition from Gov. Greg Abbott.
“We have repeatedly requested meetings with the governor and have not gotten any word back; we’ve just been ignored,” Flores said.
As far as movement in the Senate goes, an October missive from Senator John Cornyn was met with disappointment by the tribe. Cornyn wrote to the U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee to request postponing any hearings regarding H.R. 759 until state government and the A-C and Tigua tribes have reached a resolution or agreement.
Cornyn’s letter referenced concerns posed by Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton about the bill. Flores said that she spoke with Cornyn at a fundraiser held in Tyler County last May, and that he said he would support the bill if it passed the House of Representatives, but added that she and the tribal representatives would have to “work on the governor.”
Flores and tribal representatives are traveling throughout the state to educate the public about their situation and hope to gather more support. Presentations such as a recent one before the Nacogdoches Chamber of Commerce at their “Eggs and Issues” breakfast was well-received, Flores said.
“We have made presentations to more than 50 organizations, from county commissioners courts and city councils to businesses and political groups,” she said. “We are also looking to go further north with the presentations.”
An economic impact study conducted in 2018 by the Texas projected an aggregate impact of $139.6 million in activity for the region. At the end of 2019, that figure had increased to an excess of $150 million. Along with the activity pumped into the regional economy, the Alabama-Coushattas have been able to make additions to programs on tribal land, such as its HeadStart and USDA food programs. They were also able to add a full-time physician, something Flores said the tribe has not had in 20 years.
“For centuries the federal government has said ‘become self-sufficient’, but now we’ve figured out a way to do that. We are just asking for equal and fair treatment for our efforts,” said Flores.
Flores noted the positive infusion into the East Texan economy since Naskila’s opening. “That includes gas taxes and hotel taxes, and our employment numbers are up. We hopefully will maintain a positive impact for East Texas,” she said.