Alabama-Coushatta Tribe Regains Right to Operate Class II Gaming Facility

inneralabama29102015The U.S. Department of Interior (DOI), in combination with the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC), has affirmed the right of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas to reopen its class II gaming facility on tribal lands. The facility, which was open as recently as the early 2000’s, was once a thriving bingo destination on the reservation, creating more than 300 jobs and boosting the tribal economy. In a statement, Carlos Bullock, spokesman for the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe, said the gaming facility was an asset to both the tribe and surrounding counties before closing more than a decade ago.

Since it was closed, tribal leaders have remained dedicated to regaining their rights to operate the gaming facility. Illustrating this commitment, the tribe agreed to forgo $270 million from the federal government in exchange for the right to operate the bingo hall. Originally, this total was suggested by the U.S. Court of Federal Claims as compensation for the tribe’s lost revenues and trespassing damage stemming from the gaming facility’s closure.

The Alabama-Coushatta Tribe began seeking approval at the state and federal levels upon closure of its entertainment center in 2002. The recently announced federal decision, the result of more than a decade of regulatory struggle, clarifies the tribe’s right to provide Class II games pursuant to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. The NIGC will provide regulatory oversight to the tribe’s facility moving forward.

This decision is great news for the East Texas tribe, as the community is in desperate need of a new means of generating revenue. Currently, the group is in a deficit and relies on large amounts of federal funding for its ongoing programs.

The tiered classification system applies exclusively to Indian gaming regulated by the federal government’s NIGC. Class I gaming refers to traditional and ceremonial activities, while Class II includes most types of bingo. Class III covers all casino style gaming, and agreements must be negotiated with the state of jurisdiction in order to obtain clearance in most cases.

For tribal officials, the federal government’s decision to allow the bingo hall marks the end of a long and tenuous struggle. Nita Battise, tribal chairperson of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe, hailed the decision as ‘a major milestone in our tribal history’. The operation of a class II gaming facility is expected to allow the tribe to better address the needs and function of the tribal government while sufficiently taking care of tribal members.

The benefits of this decision also extend beyond the reservation. People of southeast Texas will now have an additional entertainment option in the region, which is expected to attract more visitors to the region, and, as a result, allow more businesses to operate and thrive.

Bingo is an immensely popular choice in destinations across the county, and the Lone Star State is no exception. With that popularity in mind, it appears that the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe is in a strong position to correct its current deficit and improve the livelihood of its members through the operation of its class II gaming facility.