Politics & Government

Jackpots, court challenges found at Indian gaming center in East Texas

Naskila Gaming opened its doors to its gaming center, offering more than 350 “electronic bingo” machines. State officials have filed documents in court challenging the center and asking for it to be closed.
Naskila Gaming opened its doors to its gaming center, offering more than 350 “electronic bingo” machines. State officials have filed documents in court challenging the center and asking for it to be closed. Courtesy

The crowds are getting larger.

Slowly, word is spreading about a casinolike facility on an East Texas Indian reservation that opened in mid-May.

There, a growing number of patrons pay to spin the wheels on 365 devices that look, act and sound like slot machines but are actually electronic bingo machines — and hope for a jackpot.

Some players are cashing out sizable prizes: $11,458; $8,650; $13,475; $10,708.

“This was a long time coming,” Carlos Bullock, a spokesman for the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas, said about the crowds that show up at the gaming center. “We definitely are happy with the outcome and how things are going.

“It was a long fight to open the doors.”

It may be a long fight to keep them open as well.

Even as more people are heading to the facility on the tribe’s 10,000-acre reservation in Livingston, about 240 miles southeast of Fort Worth, federal court documents continue to be filed challenging the facility’s ability to be open.

State attorneys won’t talk about the case because they don’t comment on pending litigation. But they indicate in court documents that they want the gaming center, known as Naskila Entertainment, shut down — just as a casino in the same spot was closed more than a decade ago.

The tribe, meanwhile, wants to prove in court that last year’s ruling by top Indian officials gives them legal footing to run Class II gaming — generally bingo and electronic versions of bingo — under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

Bells and whistles

As the court case progresses, Naskila workers are boosting advertising, hoping to draw even more people to the alcohol-free facility, which is open 24/7.

The crowds aren’t so great yet that people have to wait in line outside, as they did when the casino was open, just for a chance to gamble.

But the number of people showing up to play the machines is growing, particularly on weekends.

A similar casino in this same spot was closed by state officials in 2002.

“Most of the people are in our area and region,” Bullock said. “That’s what we are focused on right now because of space and machine availability.

“We are beginning to reach out into local regions and we have started doing promotions,” he said. “We are doing mail-outs that just started in the last few weeks, reaching out to local regions.”

In addition to the gaming area about 17 miles east of Livingston on U.S. 190, Naskila has a new restaurant, Timbers Grille.

The 15,000-square-foot facility, which has a capacity of 777 people, features smoking and nonsmoking sections.

They don’t call it a casino but acknowledge that their machines, like others on Indian reservations, are designed to look like traditional slot machines found in Las Vegas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and elsewhere.

They have similar bells, whistles and designs. But the machines in some form or fashion show or run bingo patterns with every spin.

The site’s gambling options are classified as Class II gaming, which allows electronic bingo — which comes in many shapes and forms — but does not allow full casino gaming.

“Some people are, of course, going to go across state lines to the big casino resorts,” Bullock said. “We are limited to what we can offer right now, but we like the impact it has had on the region.”

Most of the games are nickel or dime machines, although a “high-roller” wall offers $2 and $5 machines.

Giveaways

Naskila promotes giveaways and big wins on its Facebook page.

“Jackpots y’all,” is a message that pops up on the website, which also touts live musical performances at the center on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

Giveaways at Naskila include a chance to win free six-packs of Coke every Sunday in Austin “for every 150 points earned on your Seven Feathers Circle Players Club card.” Limit: two six-packs per player each week.

Among the current giveaways: a chance to win free six-packs of Coke every Sunday in August “for every 150 points earned on your Seven Feathers Circle Players Club card.” Limit: two six-packs per player each week.

Sharon P. of Cove recently cashed out a jackpot worth more than $11,000.

Starting Aug. 15, Naskila is offering a giveaway that could mean a new Tahoe boat or $20,000 cash for someone during a “Splash & Cash” giveaway.

As some patrons cash in, so is the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe, which is generating revenue for the tribe and reservation.

“The impact on the tribe has been pretty phenomenal,” Bullock said. “I think we are over 210 jobs and 45 percent of those have gone to tribal members.

“That helps the tribe as a whole.”

Legal standing

The court battle is gaining steam.

At issue is whether it’s legal for an Indian tribe to have such a gaming center on reservation land in Texas, even as other “electronic bingo” games aren’t allowed.

The Kickapoo tribe falls under different regulations and has operated the Lucky Eagle Casino in Eagle Pass since 1996.

The exception in Texas is the Kickapoo Tribe, which has operated the Lucky Eagle Casino in Eagle Pass since 1996. Officials have long said the Kickapoos’ legal standing is different from that of other tribes.

The Kickapoos gained recognition before laws were in place stating that tribes can’t do anything the rest of the residents of the state can’t do. Other Texas tribes — Alabama-Coushatta and Tigua — gained federal recognition later, running into different rules.

When Texas expanded gaming beyond charitable bingo to allow the lottery and pari-mutuel gambling, the Alabama-Coushatta and Tigua tribes pushed for more opportunities and briefly operated casinolike facilities until the state forced them to close them in 2002.

They’ve worked to reopen for years, particularly since tribes in nearby states opened casinos that have flourished, such as the Chickasaw Nation’s WinStar World Casino and Resort in Oklahoma.

The case has been referred to U.S. Magistrate Judge Keith F. Giblin, and documents say that if necessary, a nonjury trial may be scheduled.

Anna M. Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley

Naskila Entertainment

Who: Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas

What: A gaming venue that offers 365 devices that look, act and sound like slot machines but are actually electronic bingo machines

When: The facility is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week

Where: 540 State Park Road 56, Livingston

Contact: 936-563-2946

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