Texas Tribal Electronic Bingo Bill Could Be Halted in US Senate

By | May 17, 2021

A federal proposal to allow electronic bingo on two tribal reservations in Texas has passed the House of Representatives. But it could likely be blocked in the US Senate.

The legislation was already approved by the House.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, shown here. Cornyn could be key in blocking a federal bill to permit electronic bingo on two Texas reservations. (Image: Susan Walsh/Reuters)

Last week, the legislation, called the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo and Alabama-Coushatta Tribes of Texas Equal and Fair Opportunity Act, was passed on a voice vote by the House.

Sen. Cornyn is Key

Two Texas professors who closely follow gambling issues said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and other Texas politicians could prevent its passage in the Senate.

If Sen. Cornyn wants to use his political capital to block the legislation, then it is very likely that it will not pass, especially since it would appear that the Lone Star State’s junior senator is not an advocate for the bill,” Mark P. Jones, a political science fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute, told Casino.org. “The prospects for this bill in the US Senate are pretty grim.”

Among the other Texas Republicans beyond Cornyn, who generally oppose expanded gambling are Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus says blocking the bill in the Senate will likely require the opposition of several Texas politicians.

“He [Cornyn] is not powerful enough on his own,” Rottinghaus told Casino.org when asked if the senator could block its approval. “But with the chorus of officials in Texas who oppose it…, it makes it that much harder to pass easily.”

Rottinghaus further called the legislation “an end-around Texas’ authority to expand gaming…. This is a baby step in expanding gaming in Texas, but every step advances the idea.”

US Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, who introduced the federal bill, explained in a statement, “The Ysleta del Sur Pueblo and Alabama-Coushatta tribes are the only two tribes in the entire country who have been prohibited from Class II gaming and denied economic opportunities that would allow them to succeed, support job creation, and generate revenue to help fund critical infrastructure.”

For instance, the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas has provided electronic bingo since 1996, the Dallas Morning News reported.

Electronic bingo by the Kickapoo tribe is permitted by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). But the other two tribes do not fall under the provisions of the IGRA.

They were recognized by the federal government under the Indian Tribes of Texas Restoration Act in 1987, the Morning News said. That was a year before the IGRA was enacted.

No Impact on Texas Commercial Casino Debate

Looking at the bigger issue of whether commercial casinos will be approved in Texas, the legislation on the two tribes “will have no bearing on the future of Class III casinos in Texas,” Jones said.

The reality is that even when in operation, these casinos are modest operations that are a far cry from the destination casinos which groups like the Las Vegas Sands Corporation has been advocating for in Texas,” Jones added.

State legislators are currently considering bills that would allow residents to vote on whether to permit commercial casinos in the state. Such legislation is unlikely to pass this year.

“Allowing the tribes to offer electronic bingo will have little to no effect on the level of gambling in Texas, since far larger Class III casinos are a similar distance from the respective casinos major metro areas (Houston for the Alabama-Coushatta and El Paso for the Tigua),” Jones said.

“The electronic games offered are little different from those found at convenience stores and gaming rooms throughout the Houston region.”

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