Judge Dismisses the Controversial Texas Tribe Casino Lawsuit
July 2nd, 2020 4.00pm
Burrel Jones will surely remember his trip to the Naskila Gaming centre in Livingston, Texas. During his visit, which took place in October last year, Jones dropped by a bingo hall located on the Alabama-Coushatta tribe reservation.
What should have been a routine stay, turned out to be the beginning of a painful court case.
It all started when Jones ended up in a hospital after falling down the stairs. He then decided to press charges against the tribe, claiming it was responsible for the illegally-operated gambling facility.
That would turn out to be a costly decision, not only for his hip but for his wallet as well.
Understanding the Circumstances
A key element for understanding this unusual story is the federal policy towards Native American tribes.
As a mean of providing restitution to tribes for having been wiped out by European settlers, the U.S. authorities have granted them immunity from lawsuits. In theory, a tribe can waive this immunity, although doing something like that would be foolish, to say the least.
Essentially, Jones’ lawsuit claims the Alabama-Coushatta tribe willingly broke state law by offering bingo games on its territory. According to him, the tribe’s action was against the Texas Restoration Act, cancelling any immunity from prosecution.
Under the provisions of the Texas Restoration Act, a tribe can offer a gambling activity only if it’s available in other parts of the state. Over the last couple of years, many argued that the games provided by the tribe violated the Texas Restoration Act, but the tribal leaders have managed to keep the facility running.
It should be noted that state lawmakers are currently working on a new piece of legislation that would settle this issue once and for all, but in the meantime, the tribe continues to fend off the increasing attacks.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is the biggest opposition to the tribal immunity, waging his war against the Naskila Gaming centre for some time now. He wants the Alabama-Coushatta tribe to pay a fine of around £8,000 for every day the facility has remained open since May 2016. At this moment, that’s more than £12 million! And the sum continues to grow on a daily basis!
Let’s Go Back to the Case
After tumbling down the stairs, Jones sustained several injuries, damaging the radial nerve, fracturing his humerus, and was even knocked unconscious. The lawsuit claims the accident resulted in impaired functions and mobility, leaving him with permanent leg damage. And that’s why he wanted the Alabama-Coushatta tribe to be held to account.
Since the lawsuit states the gambling facility wasn’t operating legally, the tribe theoretically couldn’t claim immunity. Jones fails to mention why he took part in illicit activity, although that issue is not so important for his lawsuit.
The tribe’s lawyers immediately requested a dismissal, stating that tribal immunity represented a common-law right that wasn’t in any way connected to the Texas Restoration Act. According to lawyers, tribal immunity is a sovereign authority that can only be modified by Congress or the tribe itself. They pointed out the case could set a dangerous precedent, as no infraction of the Texas Restoration Act could lead to the revocation of the immunity.
In the end, the judge couldn’t do anything but to agree. He said sovereign immunity could only be amended by the legislature of the federal government, and not by the court. That’s why he wasn’t legally able to even hear the case. As for Jones, he’ll have to mind his step the next time he visits a gambling facility.
Native American tribes in the US enjoy immunity from prosecution