Rep. Norma Chavez, (D-El Paso) drafted a bill that would allow the Tigua tribe in El Paso and the Alabama-Coushatta tribe near Livingston to reopen casinos that were closed by court order when the state voiced opposition to them. The tribes say they need the money generated from gambling for health care, education and other tribal necessities.
"We have seen success," said Carlos Hisa, lieutenant governor for the Tigua tribe, the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo of El Paso. "Hopefully we can get it done this year."
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He's been at the Capitol for earlier legislative sessions to ask that the tribe be allowed to resume its revenue-producing poker and bingo.
Chavez produced similar legislation two years ago, but that bill failed on a rare tie vote of 66-66 in the Texas House. This time, the House is more closely divided with a 76-74 Republican majority and possibly more votes for Indian casino legislation, Chavez said.
The prospects in the Senate are less clear, and Republican Gov. Rick Perry. Texas' social conservative Republicans — a reliable voting block — has opposed gambling legislation. Perry is poised to fight the more moderate U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in the 2010 Republican gubernatorial primary.
Chavez said she hopes the Tiguas don't get caught in "political crossfire" over gambling.
The tribes argue that because Texas created a state-run lottery it opened the door for Indian casino gambling on federally recognized tribal lands.
The Tiguas operated the Speaking Rock Casino from 1993-2001. The tribe produced $60 million annually for the tribe's members. The Alabama-Coushatta ran their East Texas casino for only nine months before it was closed in 2002, generating $1 million a month.
Currently the Kickapoo tribe in Eagle Pass is the only one of the three Texas tribes operating a casino. It is governed by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act — not the more restrictive Restoration Act that applies to the Alabama-Coushatta and Tiguas — according to the Texas Attorney General.
Sens. Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) and John Carona (R-Dallas) are expected to soon proposed another large casino gambling bill that would allow non-Indian destination casinos to operate in certain parts of the state. Indian casinos are expected to be covered in that bill again as well. The same legislation failed in 2007.
Members of the El Paso legislative delegation say they hope the omnibus casino bill is viewed as a possible revenue generator for the state. Chavez said she and the Tiguas will support all bills that allow for the reopening of the tribe's casino. Tigua tribal members and others from El Paso spent Tuesday meeting with newly appointed legislative committee chair.
Suzii Paynter, director of the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission, said a measure of the bill could allow other Indian tribes besides the three with reservations in Texas to enter the state and try to set up casinos based on their historical ties to Texas.
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