Supreme Court lets Tigua Tribe be sued
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JUNE 5, 2001

In a victory for the state of Texas, the Supreme Court on Monday turned down an attempt by the Ysleta Del Sur Tigua Tribe to keep a long-running dispute over its casino out of the court system.

Without comment, the Court let stand a 5th Circuit Court of Appeals decision which upheld the right of Texas to sue the tribe over the operation of the Speaking Eagle Casino near El Paso. The state claims the tribe offers its patrons slot machines, keno, and various card games in violation of state law.

The tribe, on the other hand, has held the games should be allowed because Texas has a lottery. In other states, a lottery has cleared the way for Class III, or Vegas-style gaming, although no court has yet weighed in on the issue in Texas.

But what the courts have said so far hasn't been kind to the tribe. After opening a casino in 1993, the tribe attempted to force then Governor Ann Richards to negotiate a Class III compact under the guises of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA).

The tribe, however, was unsuccessful. In a ruling which the state believes is crucial to its case, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals said the 1987 law which restored the tribe's federal recognition would govern gaming on the reservation, not IGRA.

The tribe kept fighting, but didn't have much luck convincing then Governor George W. Bush to negotiate a compact either. Another lawsuit failed as Bush angered tribal leaders on the Presidential campaign trail saying he believed state law reigned "supreme" over tribes. He later clarified his remarks about tribal sovereignty.

But with the help of $1.5 million in funds provided by Bush, Attorney General John Cornyn in 1999 sued to shut down the casino, claiming the tribe had "broken" a promise not to engage in any type of gaming in violation of the 1987 law. The tribe tried to have the case dismissed, only to be rebuffed by the Supreme Court yesterday.

With the legal hurdles seemingly out of the way, Cornyn is now getting ready to go to court next month. A hearing in federal court has been scheduled for July 16 and may finally result in a ruling to close the casino.

"Today's ruling give the state a green light to proceed to a court hearing and final judgment on this matter," said Attorney General spokesperson Jane Shepperd yesterday.

A bill that would have purportedly legalized gaming for the Tigua Tribe, the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe, and the Kickapoo Tribe failed to pass the Texas Legislature this year. Lt. Governor Bill Ratliff last month refused to let the bill come up for debate in the Senate after the House approved it.

The Tigua Tribe was not available for comment yesterday. The casino has brought the 1,400-member tribe out of poverty and has reduced unemployment. It is estimated to bring in revenues of $50 million.

The Kickapoo Tribe already operates a casino. The Alabama-Coushatta Tribe hopes to open a gaming facility as well.

Relevant Links:
Speaking Rock Casino -
Office of Attorney General, Texas -
The Supreme Court -

Get the 1987 Restoration Act:
Ysleta del Sur Pueblo: Restoration of Federal Supervision (25 USC 1300g)

Related Stories:
Tigua Tribe loses gaming appeal (11/03)
Bush v. Texas Tribes: Is it really true? (11/3)