Gaming bill still being debated
Polk County Enterprise, May 2007
AUSTIN — Supporters of H.B. 10, a bill that provides a defense to prosecution for gaming activity on federally recognized tribal lands, were still waiting to debate the bill Friday evening.
H.B. 10 may be the lone gambling bill to see the light of day on the House floor as time grows short before the legislative session ends May 28.
Rep. Norma Chavez, D-El Paso, says supporting the measure is a simple act of fairness since Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff took money from the Alabama-Coushatta and the Tigua tribes who were battling to save their casinos, but instead launched efforts among the Christian Coalition to block all gambling.
Abramoff is currently in prison for conspiring to corrupt public officials and defrauding the tribes of millions of dollars.
A survey conducted April 1 through 4 by an Austin opinion research firm found that 66 percent of Texas voters supported gaming on reservations, according to a statement released by the Alabama-Coushattas this week.
Supporters point out that the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas, like many other Native America tribes, suffers economically since many of its members have a low family income and are often unemployed. There is an extremely low college graduation rate among members of the East Texas tribe and they are plagued by poor health and limited health care.
"We believe legislation to allow gaming on our reservation is a lifeline for our community," said Jo Ann Battise, Chairperson for the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas' Tribal Council. "Such a change would provide equity and fairness so that all three Indian tribes in Texas can offer the same legal forms of gaming in the state."
Texans currently spend more than $3 billion each year on gaming and related tourism activities in Louisiana, New Mexico and Oklahoma. Under current federal and state law, Texans are allowed to game only at the Kickapoo reservation in Eagle Pass.
Gaming is prohibited on the Alabama-Coushatta reservation and on Tigua Puelo lands in El Paso.
"It's time we level the playing field and create more opportunities to keep gaming taxes and revenue in Texas and for Texas — and Texans support that change," Battise said.
The gaming issue is a matter of survival for the 1,100 members of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas. The tribal lands located in Polk and Tyler counties are home to 500 tribe members.
The site is Texas' oldest tribal reservation. Ancestors of current tribe members have been in Texas since the early 1700s and played a key role in Texas history including lending assistance to Sam Houston.