The silence has finally been broken between the state of Texas and its long-running dispute with the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, also known as the Tigua Tribe of El Paso.

Despite receiving approval from the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) in the fall allowing the Tigua to operate Class II gambling on its Ysleta del Sur Pueblo reservation near El Paso, the state contends that the tribe cannot do so. A legal opinion affirming the Tigua’s gaming rights issued by the Office of the Solicitor at the Department of Interior (DOI) was also disregarded in the federal court filing. A December 9 brief written by Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) stated, “No federal agency interpretation can contradict Congressional intent.”

It is Paxton’s assertion that the state can sue the tribe under the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo Restoration Act for taking part in gaming activities that the state of Texas deems to be illegal. The law was cited by the federal courts in a challenge launched by then Texas Attorney General John Cornyn in 2001 when the tribe was forced to shut down its gaming operations. However, both the DOI Solicitor and the NIGC concluded that the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) “impliedly repealed” the provision at issue. The tribe was restored to federal recognition in 1989, which was beat out by the IGRA which was passed in 1988.

Some forms of gaming continued to be offered by the tribe at its Speaking Rock Entertainment Center on the reservation. A court order requiring the Tigua to stop offering those games was won by the state, but after the NIGC approved the tribe’s Class II gaming ordinance they returned to court. Approval of the ordinance was reliant on a letter from the DOI Solicitor’s Office on September 10, according to Indianz.com.

Both the DOI and the NIGC were invited by the judge in the case to file briefs but the offer was declined on Wednesday, December 9 by the Department of Justice (DOJ). The DOJ declined on the same day as a response was submitted by the state.

The Kickapoo tribe has been allowed to offer bingo, poker, its own variant of blackjack, and electronic pull-tab dispensers that were designed to operate and look just like slot machines in its Lucky Eagle Casino in Eagle Pass since 1996.The legality of the “Lucky Tab II” machines was questioned, but a ruling from a preemptive lawsuit filed by the tribe found that the machines qualified as Class II devices. It enabled the Kickapoo to move forward with its casino, and is the only Native American tribe in Texas allowed to oversee gambling.

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