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Tribe suffers setback on gaming issue

By Greg Peak
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BEAUMONT -- Although a trial dealing with the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas's gaming operation is still set for Feb. 28, the tribe suffered a major setback Tuesday when the federal magistrate in Beaumont sided with the state on which law will apply.

The issue addressed Tuesday as part of the pretrial procedures was whether the Indian Restoration Act or the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act would apply during the trial. The two federal measures conflict in that the Indian Restoration Act -- which created the Alabama-Coushatta federal reservation -- prohibits gaming while the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act allows it.

Judge Keith F. Giblin is hearing the state's challenge to the Native American tribe's legal right to operate under the Class II gaming license issued by the National Indian Gaming Commission.

While Tuesday's order does not directly impact the operation of the Naskila Gaming facility located near Livingston, tribal leaders have already filed a notice of appeal and are asking that Giblin's order be placed on hold until the matter can be taken to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, a process that can take a year or more.

"We are very disappointed with the ruling issued by the U.S. Federal District Court today," Tribal Council Chairperson Jo Ann Battise said. "The Alabama-Coushatta Tribe remains confident in its legal position and has already filed a notice of appeal. The Tribe has also filed a motion with the court requesting the ability to stay open pending the appeal process in order to protect the 330 jobs that the Tribe provides as the third largest employer in Polk County.

"These jobs represent an annual payroll and benefits of almost $17 million, they significantly contribute to the economies of Polk and Tyler Counties, and are vital to the greater Deep East Texas economy," she added

Battise noted that in his opinion, Giblin said the Tribe is "bearing the brunt of a conflicting statutory scheme, the result of which is arguably undesirable to its interests and, many would say, unjust."

"The conflicting regulatory scheme is unjust," Battise said. "We will continue to fight this injustice by working closely with our elected officials."