Louisiana Gaming Officials: Texas Casino a Hit

by Hector San Miguel

Gaming officials in Lake Charles, La., say a casino opened by the Alabama-Coushatta tribe near Livingston, Texas, has been doing brisk business. The tribe opened the small land-based casino after Thanksgiving on its reservation 90 miles north of Houston.

The 24-hour casino, called the Alabama-Coushatta Entertainment Center, has 280 slot machines, five blackjack tables, and one poker table. It has a snack bar but no restaurant.

The Livingston casino is the third to open in Texas. The others are the Speaking Rock Casino in El Paso run by the Tigua Indians, and the Kickapoo Indians' Lucky Eagle Casino in Eagle Pass.

Calls to the Alabama-Coushatta's public information director were not returned, but the general managers of both riverboat casinos in Lake Charles know about the casino. Lake Charles is located less than an hour from the Texas border not far from Delta Downs, the Vinton, La., racetrack that plans to open a slot-machine parlor.

John Payne, Harrah's Lake Charles general manager, said he visited the casino during the week and found it to be crowded. "It's hard to tell if they have had an impact at all on our business. It's too early," he said.

Jay Luchun, Isle of Capri's general manager, said the casino has been doing well with its slot machines. "They are pretty packed," he said. "They are about 90 miles north of Houston, so they are tapping into that local market there."

Houston is home to Sam Houston Race Park, one of three Class I racetracks in Texas. Sam Houston is open for live racing now through early April, and year-round for full-card simulcasting.

Roger Deaton, regional vice president of operations for Isle of Capri, said he had heard Texas Attorney General John Cornyn is pursuing legal action to shut down the casino.

"We were aware they opened a casino there," Deaton said. "Right now, they are running it very low key. We understood that if they did open, the attorney general was going to try and combine filing suit against them with the Tiguas."

Cornyn took the Tigua Indians to federal court earlier this year in an attempt to close the casino. He filed suit against the tribe in September 1999. A federal judge ruled in September that the Tiguas had to close down their casino by Nov. 30 because it was illegal.

At the time, Cornyn said: "The law is simple. My responsibility as attorney general is to enforce the laws of the state. I am pleased that the court agreed with our position that casino gambling is illegal in Texas."

Tribe attorneys were able to get a temporary stay from the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals just three days before the scheduling closing. A hearing has been set for Januarybefore the 5th Circuit Court to appeal the ruling ordering the Tiguas to close their casino.

The appeals court ordered lawyers on both sides to file written arguments before Christmas and set oral arguments for Jan. 9 in New Orleans, La. The Tiguas' lawsuit centers on the tribe's sovereignty and whether it has political authority over gambling and other reservation issues.

The Tiguas have been operating the Speaking Rock Casino since November 1993 when it first opened with bingo. It has since turn into a full-fledged casino with slot machines, card and dice games, and off-track betting. The casino employs 800 people and pulls in $60 million a year.