Texas Is Taking Steps to Prohibit Gambling at Tigua Casinos

Following a significant victory in a decades-long dispute over gambling by El Paso’s Tigua Indians, the Texas Attorney General’s Office is asking a federal judge for an injunction that would either prohibit or severely restrict the gaming that is currently being conducted at the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, which is owned and operated by the tribe. 

If an injunction of this kind is issued, the Tigua peoples’ Speaking Rock Entertainment Center, the border tribe’s most profitable enterprise and the subject of a legal dispute with the state dating back to 1993, could be ordered to close or significantly reduce its operations. 

On Friday, the Texas Attorney General’s Office recommended to United States District Judge Philip Martinez that an injunction prohibiting the Tigua be issued “engaging in, allowing, promoting, or operating gambling activities on the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo reservation that violate one or more of the following “Texas gambling laws and regulations.” 

This includes, but is not limited to, the one-touch machines detailed in Martinez’s February 14th order, as well as the live-called bingo described in the order. 

The most recent lawsuit filed by the state to prevent gambling on Tigua land was set to go to trial on March 4. Martinez, on the other hand, issued a summary judgment in favor of the state on February 14. A summary judgment is a court order that states, in essence, that the facts and legal arguments in a lawsuit are so one-sided that a trial is not required. 

Martinez stated in his summary judgment order that he would issue a permanent injunction restricting gambling on Tigua tribal land. He did, however, urge the state and tribe to submit proposed language for such an injunction by Friday at 5 p.m. The state proposed language to the Tigua through the attorney general’s office, but the Tigua rejected it. 

“The Pueblo defendants appreciate the court’s willingness to hear what the parties have to say about this matter.” 

The Pueblo Defendants chose to submit this response rather than the proposed language for a permanent injunction for two reasons: (1) the lack of a need for a permanent injunction; and (2) the risk that submission of the proposed language on appeal could be interpreted as a waiver of objection to the injunction “Albuquerque tribal attorney Randolph Barnhouse said in a court filing on Friday. The document was submitted in response to the court’s request for a response to the 

Martinez’s judgment did not specify when he would issue a permanent injunction after the deadline for the parties to submit their suggestions expired on Friday. He didn’t give a specific date. If he were to accept the state’s language, an injunction would put an end to all of the machine games currently being played at Speaking Rock and limit the tribe to playing bingo for no more than 12 hours per week. 

Barnhouse also filed a motion on Friday, requesting that Martinez reconsider his decision on the summary judgment

A federal judge has ruled that the Speaking Rock Casino in El Paso violates Texas gaming regulations. Antigua statue greets visitors to the casino. 

If gaming at Speaking Rock is restricted or eliminated, the city of El Paso as a whole may suffer economically. The Tigua have not released a recent employee count for Speaking Rock; however, the tribe reports that it employs 1,200 people across all of its businesses, with only one-third of them being Tigua. Speaking Rock generates revenue for the Tigua, which is used to fund health care, education, and social welfare initiatives for the tribe’s 4,200 members. 

Speaking Rock is not only a prominent advertiser in El Paso media, but they are also a sponsor of the El Paso Chihuahuas baseball team’s Thrifty Thursday promotion, as well as other community promotional endeavors. 

Several legal disputes have occurred between the Tigua and the state over the last quarter century, with the state emerging victorious in both of the preceding cases. Speaking Rock, a Las Vegas-style casino with slot machines, table games, and bingo, was forced to close its doors in 2002 after the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court judge’s decision that the casino violated state law. 

Over several years, the tribe reopened a scaled-down gambling operation that offered a variety of games, resulting in new legal battles with the state. Martinez stated in his ruling that Speaking Rock now offers 24-hour bingo as well as over 2,500 slot machine-style games that the tribe claims are electronic bingo machines. Speaking Rock also has keno. 

Martinez agreed with the Texas Attorney General’s Office in his ruling that the Tiguas’ gambling operation, which is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, goes far beyond what is allowed by state law for charitable bingo or other forms of gaming. Martinez claims that the Tiguas’ operation is illegal under state law. 

The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, a federal law passed in 1988 that required states to negotiate gaming compacts with Native American tribes, allows Native American tribes across the country to operate casinos legally. The Kickapoo is one such tribe, and they live in Eagle Pass, Texas, on the border between Texas and Mexico. 

The Tigua of El Paso and the Alabama-Coushatta of East Texas, on the other hand, are not subject to the jurisdiction of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, as determined by federal courts on multiple occasions. 

The Restoration Act, which was passed in 1987 and granted the Tigua and Alabama-Coushatta tribes their first federal recognition as Native American tribes, instead restricts gaming on Tigua and Alabama-Coushatta land. The Restoration Act barred the two tribes from engaging in any form of gaming that was not expressly authorized by state law. 

Last year, U.S. Magistrate Judge Keith Giblin of Lufkin, Texas, ruled that the Alabama-Coushatta tribe was in violation of federal law and violated Texas law by offering to gamble. However, the Alabama-Coushatta tribe has decided to appeal his decision, so the tribe’s Naskila Gaming casino remains open. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments on the case in January, and a decision is expected in the coming weeks. 

If Martinez refuses to reconsider his summary judgment opinion, the Tigua tribe will almost certainly file an appeal with the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which has twice found that the Tigua tribe’s gaming operations violated state law. The Supreme Court has decided not to hear previous appeals of 5th Circuit rulings involving Tigua. 

Despite previous failures to legalize gaming on the Tigua and Alabama-Coushatta reservations, legislation could be passed by either Congress or the Texas Legislature. Martinez’s order included language urging the tribes to try again with Congress. 

“The court understands that issuing an injunction will have a significant impact on the Pueblo community. As a result, the court joins the chorus of other judges who have urged tribes bound by the Restoration Act to petition Congress to amend or replace the Restoration Act if they want to conduct gaming on the reservation, as he wrote.” The court joins the chorus of judges who have urged tribes subject to the Restoration Act to petition Congress to amend or repeal the act.” 

The Tigua tribe paid the notorious lobbyist Jack Abramoff $4.2 million in 2002 so that he could sneak gambling legalization into a separate voting reform measure, which was the Tigua’s last significant attempt to get Congress to reform gambling laws. This attempt came after Jack Abramoff persuaded the tribe to pay him $4 million the year before. 

At the same time, Abramoff and his associates were paid by a Louisiana tribe to prevent the expansion of Indian gaming in Texas. The tribe feared that this would reduce the number of Texans who visited its casino in Louisiana. 

I wish those stupid Tiguas would contribute to the political process more thoughtfully. If we could just get our hands on that money, it would mean the world to me! “Oh well, fools get wiped out,” Abramoff wrote to a colleague shortly before approaching the El Paso tribe with his lobbying offer in 2002. This was just before Abramoff made his offer to the tribe. 

Abramoff’s attempts to sneak gaming authorization in Tigua past Congress were unsuccessful

He was later tried in federal court for defrauding the Tigua and several other Native American tribes, and he was sentenced to six years in prison for his crimes. 

The most recent effort in Congress to allow gaming by the two tribes was led by Rep. Brian Babin, a Republican from Texas whose district includes the Alabama-Coushatta reservation. He proposed the “Ysleta del Sur Pueblo and Alabama-Coushatta Tribes of Texas Equal and Fair Opportunity Settlement Act” in January. This was the most recent congressional effort to allow gaming by the two tribes. Currently, the bill has 20 co-sponsors, with Democrats and Republicans each contributing five names. 

The same bill proposed by Babin the previous year was opposed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who has led the state’s most recent legal action against the Tigua since 2017. 

Paxton stated that “over several decades, the state has invested an almost incalculable amount of time and money to settle this question and establish a consistent and uniform rule of law over gambling in Texas,” but he failed to mention Kickapoo’s separate gambling activity. “The legislation being introduced in Congress is an attempt to reverse those efforts. It is important to note that even if it becomes law, it will not fully resolve all legal issues concerning the types of gaming that would be permitted on Ysleta del Sur Pueblo and Alabama-Coushatta tribes’ lands. In a nutshell, it would undermine the legal clarity for which Texas taxpayers have paid a significant amount of money.