Texas Legislature to Consider Casino Gambling

Texas legislators will be debating two bills this year that would legalize casinos on the reservations of three Indian tribes, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

First and foremost, the bills aim to protect the Speaking Rock casino near El Paso, which is owned by the Tigua Indians. Texas Attorney General John Cornyn sued to shut down the casino in September 1999 on the grounds that the casino violated state gambling laws.

The tribe has argued its games of chance are no different legally than the state lottery and, under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988, the tribes can run any gambling operation that is legal in their state.

A trial in El Paso is set for July 16 before U.S. District Circuit Court Judge Harry Hudspeth, according to the American-Statesman.

The trial will be moot, however, if legislators decide the Speaking Rock casino and the Lucky Eagle Casino run by the Kickapoo in Eagle Pass are legal.

"What exists now is being done properly," state Rep. Terry Keel, R-Austin, told the Austin newspaper. Keel co-authored the House bill with Rep. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen. "Because it exists, we should conform the current criminal statute to be consistent with the reality of what is going on in Texas -- and what will be going on in the future."

The legislation also would legalize gambling on reservation land owned by the Alabama-Coushatta tribe of East Texas. The Alabama-Coushatta's voted in 1999 to bring gambling to its reservation.

"They are sovereign nations recognized by our country," Hinojosa told the American-Statesman."We should at least give them the flexibility to be able to take care of their own folks and own needs."

The Speaking Rock casino offers slot machines and card games such as poker and blackjack that generate about $60 million annually.