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The federal option for gambling expansion in Texas

There is a way to expand gambling in Texas without going through the Legislature.

For decades the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe fought hard to make the federal government acknowledge that it illegally developed more than 5 million acres of the tribe’s aboriginal land.

The East Texas tribe eventually won when a court said Congress owed the tribe $270 million in compensation.

But now in an extraordinary move, the tribe’s leaders say they will forgo the gigantic sum of money and forget the past if allowed to open a casino to secure their future.

U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Friendswood, and Rep. Gene Green, D-Houston, introduced legislation this month to amend the tribe’s federal recognition to include the gaming rights allowed hundreds of other Native American governments, but under one important condition: Alabama-Coushatta drops claim to the $270 million in damages a federal court recommended U.S. Congress pay in 2002 and another land-based lawsuit filed last year.

“Nobody pounded us and said, ‘This is what you’re going to do,’‚ÄČ” said Andy Taylor, an attorney for the tribe. “The tribe is saying, ‘We’re this serious.’ We are willing to forget 200 years of mistreatment. All we want is economic independence.”

At times pausing to fight back tears, members of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribal Council said securing an economic mechanism to move the tribe away from dependency on quick-to-change and slow-to-grow federal appropriations cinched the difficult decision to draft what they see as a generous compromise, catch-all bill.

“With the sequestration and the situation of the federal government, we understand they don’t have $270.6 million to give to an individual tribe,” said Kyle Williams, tribal council chairman. “If we have to go after each individual issue, it would never happen and we would still be pursuing these issues 20 years from now.”

The tribe opened a casino in 2001, but a court order shut it down the next year. This bill could remove the obstacle that led to the closing of that casino. The tribe would still be limited as to what kind of games they could offer, pending action from the Legislature, but they would be able to have a casino, which would undoubtedly help them make a lot of money. The one thing that I’m curious about that wasn’t addressed in the story was what the other gambling interests in Texas think about this. I suppose if the bill in question begins to gain traction, we’ll find out.

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  1. […] Houston Press cover story from last week is about the Alabama-Coushatta tribe’s efforts to get a casino again. It covers a lot of the same ground as that Chron story I blogged about on […]