Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

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March 30, 2009

Texas tribes push to reopen casinos

AUSTIN (AP) — Two American Indian tribes asked Texas lawmakers Monday to let them reopen casinos they say helped them pay for education, health care and other essential services.

Leaders of the Tigua tribe of El Paso and the Alabama-Coushatta of Livingston testified before a House subcommittee on the first casino gambling bill to get a public hearing this session. Proposals to allow Las Vegas-style resort casinos elsewhere in Texas and slot machines at race tracks also are pending.

“The Tiguas used their profits wisely,” said Democratic Rep. Norma Chavez of El Paso, explaining that the tribe’s casino revenues of $50 million to $60 million per year paid for college scholarships, health care, a library and a recreation center. Unemployment dropped dramatically in that period, she said.

The Speaking Rock Casino employed 800 people while it was open for nine years beginning in 1993 and was an economic boost to the El Paso area, Chavez said. Now, she said, El Paso-area residents continue to gamble but do it in nearby New Mexico.

Her legislation would provide a defense to prosecution for Texas tribal casinos run by the Tigas and the Alabama-Coushatta. That same proposal barely failed in the House in 2007 on a rare tie vote. The state shut down the tribes’ casinos in 2002.

Only the Kickapoo tribe of Eagle Pass, governed by a different federal law, runs a casino in Texas.

Alabama-Coushatta tribal council chairman Carlos Bullock testified that his tribe’s East Texas casino was open only nine months, but that the tribe saw benefits right away and had hoped to provide the services the Tiguas were able to supply.

“These are two tribes that have had long histories with the state of Texas. We want to continue to be good neighbors,” Bullock told the House Criminal Jurisprudence subcommittee.

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