- Associated Press - Sunday, May 4, 2014

EL PASO, Texas (AP) - After losing a long court battle with the state, the Tigua Indians closed their Speaking Rock Casino outside El Paso in 2002, leaving the Kickapoo tribe with the only legal gambling hall in Texas.

So one might wonder what’s going on these days at the Speaking Rock Entertainment Center.

Gamblers pack Speaking Rock day and night, feeding greenbacks into beeping, flashing gaming machines. And while the tribe calls it a legal sweepstakes operation, the state says it is a prohibited casino.

Once more, the on-again-off-again legal fight that began two decades ago is back in court.

“This is in fact an illegal gambling operation,” Assistant Attorney General William Deane said at a March 10 federal court hearing in El Paso.

In 1999, when George W. Bush was governor, then-Texas Attorney General John Cornyn sued the Tiguas, claiming the tribe’s bustling casino violated state law. The Tiguas had agreed to not have gambling as a condition of receiving federal recognition in 1987.

The casino did close, only to soon reopen in a different form.

At last month’s hearing, the attorney general’s office pressed for a contempt ruling against the tribe, claiming that it continues to defy state law and court orders.

“We’re going to show it is in violation of the injunction,” Deane told U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone.

Tribal lawyer Dolph Barn-house wasted no time in attacking the state’s evidence, gathered in part by covert visits made to Speaking Rock in 2012 by state police who played the machines and filmed video.

“We have individuals for the state going onto a federal enclave and conducting an undercover operation that flies in the face of this court’s order and civil procedure,” Barn-house asserted. “My client is a sovereign nation with rights of sovereignty immunity, and those can only be waived by Congress under special circumstances.”

For the tribe, the outcome of this latest skirmish could be critical. The forced closing of the casino in 2002 cost hundreds of jobs and the tribe’s main source of income.

The renamed Speaking Rock Entertainment Center and a second gaming hall in nearby Socorro now provide 75 percent of the tribe’s income and 300 jobs, according to one tribal official.

After consulting with the lawyers, Cardone set the matter for a full airing in October.

Referring to the long legal siege, as “20 years of wrangling,” she made it clear that in her opinion, State of Texas vs. Ysleta del Sur Pueblo et al, has gone on long enough.

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