Doubling Down: Texas and Casino Gambling

The Alabama-Coushatta want their casino back. The Texas horse tracks say betting on races isn’t enough. Both see expanded gambling in the state as their ticket to solvency.

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Kyle Williams remembers when Texans knew his nation.

Standing along one of the few paved roads slicing the Alabama-Coushatta reservation, 90 minutes northeast of Houston, Williams, chairman of the tribal council, describes the days Texans flocked to this land. Cars streaming in at every hour. Lines of impatience snaking a quarter-mile long. People who'd never set foot on reservations, whose exposure to Native Americans was limited to Cowboys-Redskins games and reruns of The Lone Ranger, taking hours and days from their lives to visit the 10,000 acres allocated to an entire people.

Alabama-Coushatta Chairman Kyle Williams has helped steer the tribe's efforts to reclaim the gaming it once maintained, lobbying legislators in both Austin and Washington.
Daniel Kramer
Alabama-Coushatta Chairman Kyle Williams has helped steer the tribe's efforts to reclaim the gaming it once maintained, lobbying legislators in both Austin and Washington.
In 2001, the Alabama-Coushatta opened an entertainment complex with a poker table, a blackjack table and 300 slots, bringing the tribe 
$1 million per month. The casino was forced to close in 2002.
Courtesy of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas
In 2001, the Alabama-Coushatta opened an entertainment complex with a poker table, a blackjack table and 300 slots, bringing the tribe $1 million per month. The casino was forced to close in 2002.

Texans, visiting his nation. Bringing their money and leaving it behind. Visiting the only casino within striking distance of Houston.

"People were lined up," Williams says, stretching his hands to imagine the size. "There were lines like this during the week as well...Everyone could see what was possible. A lot of people's opinions changed when we had this for nine months. People that opposed us came here in support of us — especially among the outside community."

Williams's beige suit bunches around his shoulders and his ­sable-silk ponytail drapes across his back. He stands straight when describing the crowds who've now disappeared. Williams was just a slot technician at the time, charged with technical duties while the European-Americans flowed through the tribe's entertainment center. He describes the hundreds of slots, alongside a poker and blackjack table, turning a tribe nearing bankruptcy into a nation flipping $1 million in revenue a month.

The Alabama-Coushatta had initially voted in 1994 against installing a casino on their grounds. However, the fiscal impact on Texas's Kickapoo and Tigua tribes swayed dissenters. "We saw the big impact [gaming] had on Indian communities," Williams says. "And not only Indian communities, but surrounding areas, too." A subsequent vote, taken in 1999, showed two-thirds of the tribe in favor of gaming, and in late 2001, the first slots were installed. Gambling, and a $1 million-per-month rake, had come to the Alabama-Coushatta.

And then one day nine months in, it was gone. Three hundred employees let go. The largest source of income the tribe has ever known, forced to close by legislation and lobbyists seeking to coax those casino-goers to Louisiana and Oklahoma and New Mexico.

A federal court had ruled that the Alabama-Coushatta had violated the terms of their recognition, which, as argued by then-Texas Attorney General John Cornyn, stated that all gaming prohibited by the state of Texas was "hereby prohibited on the reservation and on lands of the tribe." The challenge came with the full-throated ­support of Texas's evangelical population, spurred on by a now-­notorious lobbyist named Jack Abramoff. (Ironically, the Alabama-Coushatta remain a heavily Christian community and even forbade alcohol at their former entertainment center.)

"We already knew that when we opened, we were going to be in litigation," Williams continues. "We were prepared for that." The ­Louisiana-­Coushatta, a related tribe just one state over, had been concerned about consumers opting for their Texas cousins and ended up enlisting the aid of Abramoff, the fedora-topped lobbyist later sentenced to nearly six years for conspiracy and tax evasion in 2006.

While secretly disparaging the Native Americans as "stupid mofos," "monkeys" and "fucking troglodytes," Abramoff used Christian connections in Texas to mobilize anti-casino forces. Through shell corporations and blatant corruption — Abramoff and his partner are believed to have received a total of $85 million from their Indian clients — the lobbyist managed to muster enough opposition to shutter the casinos of both the Alabama-Coushatta and El Paso's Tigua tribe in 2002. Less than a year in, the Alabama-Coushatta's best modern opportunity for self-sustenance collapsed.

With equal parts gall and venality, Abramoff then approached the Alabama-Coushatta with an offer to restore their casino but was found out before he could swindle more Native-American money.

"It was devastating," Williams says, his voice moving slowly through the subsequent drop-off. "Everyone could see what was possible — at the time, when we were open, we were one of the highest-paying employers here in the surrounding area."

A visitor asks Williams about Abramoff, but the chairman claims the name provokes no reaction on the reservation. Nobody brings him up. No one thinks about him. But it's Abramoff's work — his choice to blinker both Texas legislators and tribes — that ended the only casino the Alabama-Coushatta have ever known. It was Abramoff's slimeball politics that forced the Alabama-Coushatta to revert once more to smoke shops and land cultivation as their sole, and depreciating, sources of income. It was Abramoff's grease-stained fingerprints, his choice to skim the profits and to try to lobby both for and against the tribe's casino, that directed Williams and his people back onto Washington's dole.

That was more than a decade ago. In the interim, the tribe, which sued Abramoff and settled out of court in 2007, has sunk nearly $3 million into attempting to change the federal language prohibiting its casino. The people have limped on with federal aid and HUD housing. The tribe has watched its ranks grow — there are now 1,150 full-blood members — but has resources enough to support only 600 on the reservation, while 80 families wait to move onto the land.

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21 comments
JennyM
JennyM

It's just hard to believe that anyone would really want to stop the Alabama Coushattas from putting up a casino.  For crying out loud - the whole country is still wounded from the recession, and casinos definitely contribute to the economy of wherever they're located.  More to the point, if any Native American tribe wants a casino, why not?  This is still their country before it's anyone else's.

There is nothing in the Bible that forbids gambling, although there are commands not to cheat, oppress, steal, murder, etc.  So perhaps these "Christians" time would be better spent returning land to people cheated out of it, supporting tribal immersion schools to combat the effects of genocidal oppression directed against an entire race of people by the powers that claimed to be Christian (wonder what Jesus will say on Judgment Day in regard to the abuses perpetrated by workers at Indian boarding schools?).  Maybe instead of worrying about the speck in our neighbor's eye we should remove the log from our own - OOPS! - that seems to have been said a long time ago somewhere. 

seasincarnadine
seasincarnadine

Is there any way to see who in the legislature keeps voting against gaming and whether they themselves are taking campaign contributions fron casinos in OK and LA?  I imagine most of the self-righteous religious rhetoric is merely a hypocritical coverup for politicians that are shills for out-of-state casinos. 

Secondly, our state seems hell-bent on using "lower taxes" as a crutch to eviscerate the education system.  (Seems those on top have figured out that the best way to maintain social stratification is to keep the poor uneducated)  For Christ's sake, this would at least provide those leaders with one less excuse as to why "we need to cut teachers" or "kids shouldn't have to learn algebra". 

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

We will have gaming inside Texas when the Choctaws and Chickasaws can have a license on their terms, which basically means no disclosure.

jazzyjanuary44
jazzyjanuary44

damn what is wrong with these crazy ass people...its time you have the damn lottery and shit ,is that gambling.

brian.zygo
brian.zygo

As a Baylor graduate who grew up Roman Catholic, the hypocrisy of the anti-gaming sources here in Texas remind me of an old joke about why you take two Southern Baptist friends when you go fishing instead of just one.

Ricardo Sanchez
Ricardo Sanchez

To approve lottery, we were assured that the revenue generated would finance the State's educational needs.It is now 2013 and it has done nothing to help out our state and our children. Allowing casinos in our state will only serve the money interests while creating more social problems which our society cannot handle.

aliberaltexan
aliberaltexan

It is time for casino gambling in Texas.  Good grief.  Are we stuck in a freakin' time warp?

Scott Hunter
Scott Hunter

You've had the lottery for years, taxes on alcohol for years, etc., etc. ... and now you need a casino to create jobs and revenue? What a joke.

Daniel Rex
Daniel Rex

It's not a tax unless you consume it or use it people.

Darrell Maxwell
Darrell Maxwell

We need to keep Texas money in Texas. It would bring in a lot of tourism. Create a lot of jobs. If you prefer church please go there. You too will benefit from the new income.

Scott Caffrey
Scott Caffrey

Doesn't make since to allow the revenue that is generated from Casinos to be taken out of state. People are going to gamble so the state should capitalize on it.

Dodd Melcher
Dodd Melcher

C'mon. From Houston all you have to do is drive two hours to Louisiana and back if you want to gamble. Less if you live in Dallas and drive to Oklahoma. Then Texas is still stuck with those poor gamblers, but without the tax revenue and additional jobs.

Semeon Butters Risom
Semeon Butters Risom

Whataburger and chick-fil-a are a tax on the poor. Legalized gambling should be brought to Texas. It would bring huge revenue back to the state.

Jeff Hunter
Jeff Hunter

We should not have full-on casinos here in Texas, but I would legalize Texas Hold "Em for Texas bars.

DeathBreath
DeathBreath

Why do we allow Southern Baptist fucks to travel to NM, Lousyanna, & Oklahoma in order to satisfy their gambling lust?  Let the light of day shine for all.  Can you say hypocrite?  It is time Texas has gambling casinos and all forms of betting including a betting pool for those on Death Row.  Oh, I nearly forgot.  I nearly forgot about the Hammer or Wild Thang. Tom "I ain't done a day in prison" Delay.  I smell vermin in the air.

Anse
Anse

I'm not surprised that folks are not eager to legalize casinos. They're sleaze magnets. But I suppose they're no filthier than a gas refinery, so who cares? Just keep 'em isolated and out of the way and let folks do what they want. 

quinnolivarez
quinnolivarez

The fact that gaming isn't easy to come by in Texas is really alarming. While a little off topic, suppose a resort featuring gaming opened in Galveston. It would instantly be a major revenue-generator for the city, and like the article mentions, would keep the tax revenue that comes from gaming in-state. From what I understand, the bill on gaming at horse tracks also would potentially make poker legal in such establishments, as well as bingo halls. This would be a coup

JennyM
JennyM

@seasincarnadine 

1. I'd wager on Cornyn.

2. Surely you're not suggesting that the Haves give up a whole dollar now and then in taxes for programs benefiting the Have-Nots!  Downright un-American, that.

 
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