Texas economy

Supporting Naskila Gaming helps the economy of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas in East Texas [Opinion]

Texas is a state of opportunity and prosperity. There is a story brewing in East Texas that stands in stark contrast to this fundamental Texas mentality. It’s a story about Texas not fighting for the jobs and economic prosperity of its people. This is about my tribe – the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas, and hundreds of jobs and millions of economic impacts for East Texas put at risk.

Our tribe, one of three federally recognized tribes in the state, has been a part of Texas history long before Texas became a state. We played an important role in the struggle for independence, providing shelter and food to starving women and children fleeing Texas towns under attack before the Battle of San Jacinto. Our Chef Colita personally carried the news of Sam Houston’s victory in Louisiana and brought the displaced Texans home. We are proud of our contributions and the impact we have had here.

Today our tribe is the second largest employer in Polk County. We support over 700 local jobs, numerous educational programs, health care facilities and much needed housing programs. This is largely due to our Naskila Gaming operation, which opened in 2016 on our tribal lands near Livingston, Texas. Naskila provides electronic bingo and entertainment to 1 million visitors each year and injects over $170 million into the East Texas economy each year.

Naskila offers well-paying jobs with health care and retirement benefits, a first for many Naskila employees. These jobs have increased personal dignity and give meaning and contribution to the community; something all Texans deserve.

But all of Naskila’s positive impact is in jeopardy.

Conflicting federal laws have called into question our tribe’s ability to provide electronic bingo to Naskila under India’s Federal Gaming Regulation Act (IGRA). In the interests of fairness and to end years of litigation between our tribe and the State of Texas, Congressman Brian Babin introduced HR 759. This legislation clarifies that our tribe may continue to offer bingo under IGRA, just as the Kickapoo tribe at Eagle Pass has been able to do for 25 years. It makes sense that our tribe, East Texas employees, and visitors to Naskila have the same employment and economic opportunities that Eagle Pass communities enjoy.

We have seen incredible support for our cause. In July 2019, HR 759 was passed unanimously by the US House of Representatives and is now awaiting a decision from the US Senate. Additionally, more than 60 East Texas organizations support this effort, including Texas county commissions, city governments, and chambers of commerce.

But there are still hurdles we face in getting HR 759 across the finish line to support East Texas jobs and prosperity.

Now is the time for our Texas Senators to step up and show the same support for East Texas that the United States House overwhelmingly demonstrated by passing this important legislation earlier this year. It’s the right thing to do for East Texas and will ensure that more than 700 Texans can continue to support their families. It’s the thing to do in Texas.

Flores is a member of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas and is currently Tribal Council President.