Big Thicket delegation delivers death blow to tribal gaming bill
Polk County Enterprise, May 2007
By VALERIE REDDELL
Special Sections Editor
AUSTIN – Despite a pledge to support a bill that would reopen an entertainment center on the Alabama-Coushatta reservation near Livingston, Rep. John Otto (R-Dayton) voted against H.B. 10 when the Texas House of Representatives voted at 12:33 a.m. Friday.
The bill was defeated with a rare tie vote, 66-66.
House records show Rep. Jim McReynolds (D-Lufkin), whose district includes Tyler County, as present not voting.
The vote left members of the tribal council for the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas reeling, but not defeated.
“While there was bi-partisan support for H.B. 10, our tribe was stunned and dismayed that Polk County’s own state representative voted against the bill,” said Jo Ann Battise, chairperson of the tribal council.
“I personally visited with Rep. Otto just days before the vote and he pledged his support for H.B. 10. Instead, on Thursday night Otto switched his vote, denying Polk, Liberty and Montgomery counties the promise of jobs and economic development.”
Otto had also told The Enterprise in a telephone interview last week that while he preferred a local option election, he would support H.B. 10.
After the vote, Otto released a statement characterizing the bill as a “back door violation against the Texas constitution.”
The bill did not legalize gambling, but a defense to prosecution if someone were charged with an offense under the Texas Penal Code.
District Attorney Lee Hon said such a defense to prosecution would not prevent charges from being filed and compared it to situations where defense attorneys cite self-defense when a defendant faces criminal charged following a death.
“It allows the jury to consider the circumstances around the alleged offense when determining guilt,” Hon said.
If H.B. 10 had passed, it would have allowed a jury to decide an employee or tribal official was not guilty because the gaming activity occurred on tribal lands, according to Hon.
Otto claimed H.B. 10 would prevent the state from prosecuting gaming violations.
Another objection Otto raised was the disparity in the state’s share of tribal gaming, 10 percent, versus lottery proceeds.
“The bill stated the State of Texas would get only 10 percent of the proceeds from Indian gaming,” Otto said. “That is compared to the 28 percent the state gets from the lottery. Why would there be so much less to gain financially for the state with Indian gaming than we have in the lottery?”
Battise said there was a lot of misinformation circulated on the House floor during the debate over H.B. 10.
Some of that misinformation included what activities would be allowed under Class II gaming.
The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, a federal law, includes bingo, pull tabs and video lottery games commonly referred to as eight-liners.
In Class II gaming, banked card games, roulette, slot machines and crap games found in casinos are forbidden. Battise said lobbyists for the Harrah’s casinos were among those circulating that misinformation.
“We are not ready to accept defeat,” Battise said. “We believe the majority of the Texas House agrees with the majority of Texans and support Indian gaming. The tie vote at the midnight hour was made without many of our supporters present.”
Otto said his position on gaming is clear.
“I want the voters of Texas to decide whether or not we have gaming in our great state. Just like we asked the voters to approve the lottery and just like we asked them to approve pari-mutuel betting. Indian gaming should not be any different,” Otto said.
Battise counters that tribal gaming already receives different treatment than other nonprofit entities.
“We are simply seeking the right to participate in the same activities that hundreds of VFW and American Legions posts and Catholic churches conduct every week in Texas,” Battise said.
Many Texans cross state lines to spend millions of dollars in casinos that operate in adjoining states, Battise adds.
Permitting the Tiguas and the Alabama-Coushatta tribe to conduct Class II gaming would keep those dollars in Texas, she said.