For over two decades, the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, also known as Tigua Native Americans, have operated the Speaking Rock Casino in El Paso. As has been the case for other tribes across the country, revenue from casino operations has helped finance infrastructure improvements and enrich the lives of its members. But those benefits could end soon for the Tigua.
Earlier this month, a federal judge ruled, in response to a suit brought by the Texas attorney general’s office, that the tribe’s gaming operations violated Texas law. It’s the latest chapter in a long legal battle over the Tiguas right to offer casino-style games.
The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, or IGRA, passed in 1988, established three classes of gaming, one of which applies to Las Vegas-style casino gambling – the kind of gambling offered at Speaking Rock. Under the act, there are circumstances that allow some tribes to operate Vegas-style casinos, but they don’t currently apply to the Tigua.
Ray Torgerson, an attorney at the Porter, Hedges Law Firm in Houston, and chair of the Native American Law Section of the State Bar of Texas, says the Tigua didn’t secure the same gaming status as other Texas tribes during IGRA negotiations in the ‘80s.
For the Tigua, he says, “Gaming activities, which are prohibited by the laws of the state of Texas, are prohibited on the reservation and the lands of the tribe.”
The Kickapoo Native Americans, on the other hand, run a Vegas-style casino in Eagle Pass, but that’s because it is covered by a different federal law.
“They have different federal statutory recognition language that treats them differently,” Torgerson says.
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Written by Morgan Kuehler.
Note: In the audio version of this story, Host David Brown refers to “Standing Rock Casino.” In fact, the facility is Speaking Rock Casino.