Sign up for The Brief, our daily newsletter that keeps readers up to date with the most essential news from Texas.
The U.S. Supreme Court sided with two Native American tribes in Texas in a ruling Wednesday that reaffirmed their autonomy to regulate unprohibited gambling on their lands and bolstered tribal sovereignty in the state.
The judges rendered a 5-4 decision. The nation’s highest court has declared that the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo tribe near El Paso, also known as the Tiguas, and the Alabama-Coushatta tribe of Texas, north of Houston, have autonomy to regulate the electronic bingo games on their land, regardless of state rules on non-prohibited gambling. In other words, if gambling is not outright banned and criminalized in the state, Texas cannot impose its regulations on tribal gambling.
“The court’s decision is an affirmation of tribal sovereignty and a victory for the Texas economy,” Ricky Sylestine, tribal council president for the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas, said in a statement. “The highest court in the land has made it clear that our tribe has the right to legally operate electronic bingo on our reservation, just as we have done for the past six years.”
But in the majority view, Judge Neil M. Gorsuch pointed out that Wednesday’s decision does not mean that Native American tribes can offer all the games they choose on their lands.
“None of this is to say that the tribe can offer gaming on any terms it wishes. The Restoration Act provides that gaming activity prohibited by Texas law is also prohibited on tribal lands under the law. federal,” Gorsuch wrote. “Other gambling activities are subject to tribal regulation and must comply with the terms and conditions set forth in federal law.”
Texas has some of the strictest gambling laws in the country. The Tiguas have fought the state in court for decades over gambling expansion on their land. Texas has repeatedly blocked efforts in federal court.
Ben Kappelman, a partner at international law firm Dorsey & Whitney that handles cases involving American Indian federal law issues, said Wednesday’s ruling is a victory for the tribes, but does not mean the games tribes will not be fully regulated.
“This is a significant victory for the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo Indian tribe after decades of trial losses,” Kappelmann said. “Yet the Supreme Court’s decision will hardly leave Pueblo gambling unregulated. They will simply join the large number of tribes whose gaming businesses are regulated by the National Indian Gaming Commission.
The case now returns to the 5th United States Circuit Court of Appeals for further deliberation.
Join us September 22-24 in person in downtown Austin for the Texas Tribune Festival and experience over 100 conversational events featuring big names you know and some you should know around the worlds. from politics, public policy, media and technology – all hosted by The Texas Tribune’s award-winning journalists. To buy tickets.