Attorney optimistic over fate of gambling issue
Polk County Enterprise, April 2007
AUSTIN -- The House Committee on Licensing and Administrative Procedures heard testimony Tuesday on three proposed constitutional amendments that would allow federally recognized Indian tribes to conduct gaming activities on tribal lands and committee staff members say they believe some of the gaming bills may pass.
Steve Hart, an attorney for the Alabama-Coushatta tribe, said Wednesday he believed the committee supports the measures.
“They appreciate the fact that these gaming bills are good for the tribe and good for East Texas,” Hart said. “It makes more sense to have these economic development dollars in the state rather than going out of state.”
“There’s a general feeling that it’s time to be fair to the Indian people,” Hart added.
Fairness has been a crucial element in the battle to keep several entertainment centers open in Texas.
Currently, the Kickapoo Indians operate a Class II gaming casino on tribal lands near Eagle Pass under federal regulations. Class II facilities permit bingo and video lottery games but do not allow banked card games, federal gaming officials said.
The Alabama-Coushatta and Tigua tribes were forced to close their gaming activities in 2000 as a result of a lawsuit by the Texas Attorney General’s office.
The proposed constitutional amendments would allow the Alabama-Coushatta and Tiguas to follow the same regulations.
The East Texas tribe has also filed a lawsuit against Jack Abramoff, Michael Scanlon, et al for their lobbying activities that convinced the Louisiana-Coushatta tribe that the Polk County tribe’s efforts threatened their business.
The lawsuit alleges that Abramoff and his associates organized efforts to “kill” the nondrinking casino east of Livingston that ended with the loss of 300 jobs and dried up revenue that was used to support tribal health care programs and other humanitarian efforts.
While Abramoff was organizing efforts against the Alabama-Coushatta, he also took money from the tribe claiming to be supporting the tribe’s efforts.
HJR 10 would not affect Polk County since it would only permit gaming on tribal lands in counties with a population greater than 650,000.
HJR 14 and HJR 15 would authorize provisions to be added to the Nov. 6 general election to allow gaming on tribal lands and specifically mentions the Alabama Coushatta and Ysleta de Sur reservations.
Lobbyist Mike Bielecki said H.B. 3551, which is supported by the Alabama Coushatta tribe, has encountered some obstacles because there is a lack of agreement among racetrack owners who would also be affected by the bill.
Hart expects the next action will be for the committee to hear testimony on H.B. 3351 or H.B. 3335, both of which related to video lottery games on tribal lands and currently licensed racetracks in Texas.
“I guess it will then move out of committee,” Hart said.