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Supreme Court deals another blow to gambling at Tigua Speaking Rock casino

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El Paso’s Tigua tribe suffered another major setback in their ongoing battle with the state of Texas over gambling at the Speaking Rock Entertainment Center.

The Supreme Court on Jan. 13 refused to hear an appeal from the Alabama-Coushatta tribe of East Texas over court rulings saying that tribe’s gambling operations were illegal. The Supreme Court has consistently refused for decades to intervene in the gambling dispute between the state of Texas and the Tigua and Alabama-Coushatta, letting stand rulings by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Supreme Court decision doesn’t immediately impact the Tigua, but it makes it more likely that courts could shutter Speaking Rock Casino in the coming months. The Alabama-Coushatta Naskila Gaming casino in Livingston, Texas, continues to operate, though it’s likely the state of Texas will move soon for its closure.

The issue revolves around the Restoration Act, a 1987 law that restored a trust relationship between the U.S. government and the two Native American tribes. The law included a provision barring gambling on tribal land that wasn’t allowed elsewhere in the state.

The two tribes have fought since the 1990s to offer gambling, arguing that the Indian Gaming and Regulatory Act passed in 1988 allowed them to operate bingo and similar games. But federal courts and the 5th Circuit have repeatedly ruled that the Restoration Act’s ban on gambling takes precedence over IGRA.

The tribes have gone through a cycle of forced closings and reopenings since their first lawsuits were filed in 1992. The 5th Circuit in March 2019 upheld a federal court decision that the Alabama-Coushatta was operating its casino in violation of state law, and U.S. District Judge Philip Martinez issued a similar finding on the Tigua and Speaking Rock a couple of weeks later.

Three judges from the 5th Circuit heard oral arguments in the Tigua case Feb. 4. The 5th Circuit has never ruled in favor of the Tiguas on gambling issues. Another loss with the 5th Circuit would force the Tigua to appeal to the Supreme Court, which has never agreed to review prior appellate court decisions in the Tigua case.

The U.S. House of Representatives last year passed a bill that would legalize current games at Speaking Rock and Naskila by making the tribes subject to IGRA. But the Senate has not scheduled any action on the bill, and Gov. Greg Abbott and other Texas leaders have said they oppose the bill. 

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Robert Moore

Robert Moore is the founder and CEO of El Paso Matters. He has been a journalist in the Texas Borderlands since 1986. His work has received a number of top journalism honors including the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, Pulitzer Prize finalist and the Benjamin C. Bradlee Editor of the Year Award. Moore’s work has appeared in the Washington Post, Texas Monthly, ProPublica, National Public Radio, The Guardian and other publications. He has been featured as an expert on border issues by CNN, MSNBC, BBC, CBC and PBS.

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