Texas tribe launches charm offensive in the face of threatened closure

In the face of an ongoing challenge to the legality of its Naskila Gaming venue in Texas, the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe Of Texas has launched a charm offensive designed to generate more local support for its Class II gaming facility located near the city of Livingston.

According to a report from the Dayton News newspaper, the federally-recognized Texas tribe opened the 15,000 sq ft Polk County facility in May offering 365 of the latest electronic bingo machines alongside the Timber Grill restaurant, which serves breakfasts, lunches and dinners. The launch followed 2015 approvals from the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) regulator and the signing of an agreement that allowed the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe Of Texas to operate the venue pending the outcome of a legal review.

Full casino gambling is not permitted in Texas with the sole exception of the tribal-owned Kickapoo Lucky Eagle Casino Hotel near the state’s international border with Mexico and officials had shut down a previous incarnation of Naskila Gaming almost 15 years ago after successfully arguing that their own edicts override those set by their aboriginal counterparts.

In July, the office for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a petition with the United States District Court For The Eastern District Of Texas asking the court to overrule sections of the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act and close Naskila Gaming, which operates on the tribe’s 10,200-acre reservation some 72 miles from the border with Louisiana.

“Naskila means “dogwood tree” in our language,” Yolanda Poncho, Marketing Coordinator for Naskila Gaming, told the Dayton News. “The dogwood tree is important to our people. All creation is but Naskila has significant meaning to us.”

Texas tribe launches charm offensive in the face of threatened closure

Poncho stated that the alcohol-free Naskila Gaming has smoking and non-smoking sections and sits in an area that her tribe has occupied for over 200 years. She declared that the facility has 190 full-time employees with 43% of these from the around 1,200-strong aboriginal group itself and will pay out approximately $8 million a year in salaries.

“Some of them haven’t had insurance in 20 years and to hear them say they have it now is a good feeling,” said Poncho. “A lot of our members are younger and it is so exciting to see them become a part of society and give back.”

Poncho estimated that it took $9.9 million to open Naskila Gaming with $7.3 million of that in Texas while $5.5 million was spent in Polk County alone. She explained that the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe Of Texas would spend around $4.2 million in the southern state and approximately $3 million in surrounding local communities to keep the facility open and functioning.

“It is no secret that for those who want to go gaming, their option in southeast Texas has long been to take a trip to Louisiana [but] not anymore,” Poncho told the newspaper. “You can come to Livingston and turn on 190 and go to State Park Road 56.”

Clint Poncho, a member of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe Of Texas Tribal Council, told the newspaper that he does not expect a ruling in the case “for at least ten months” while proclaiming that he is “confident we will be a winner in this fight”.

Fellow Alabama-Coushatta Tribe Of Texas Tribal Council member Roland Poncho told the Tyler County Booster newspaper that the tribe intends to continue operating Naskila Gaming “24 hours a day [and] seven days a week until the court makes its final decision”.

“Residents of deep east Texas who enjoy gaming and want to do it in a friendly alcohol-free environment are now able to do so on our reservation,” Jo Ann Battise from the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe Of Texas Tribal Council told the Tyler County Booster. “As most of our neighbors know, our tribe has occupied our tribal lands in the Big Thicket region for more than 200 years. However, what many in the region may not realize is that our tribe is a fully functioning sovereign government with a full array of health and human services to support. Gaming offers a stable source of income to sustain and improve these vital tribal services while creating jobs for both tribal and non-tribal citizens.”