Cornyn, Abbott ask feds to delay Kickapoo gambling talks 6-28-07

AUSTIN (AP) - U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott asked federal officials on Thursday to delay efforts to allow the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas to expand casino gambling at its reservation near Eagle Pass.

Texas officials have been fighting for several years with the U.S. Interior Department over the 500-member tribe's plan to offer Las Vegas-style gambling at its casino along the state's border with Mexico.

Last month, the department gave the tribe preliminary approval to expand its offerings from poker and bingo to a range of games including blackjack, keno, roulette and off-track pari-mutuel betting on horses or dogs. The tribe still must negotiate with Interior Department officials about the details of regulating the games.

In letters sent Thursday to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, Cornyn and Abbott criticized the department's decision and its procedures for processing Indian gaming permits over a state's objections.

Abbott said the department should have waited for a federal appeals court ruling on Texas' claim that those procedures unconstitutionally usurp the state's power to prohibit casino gambling.

“Many times over the years, Texans have spoken on whether to allow casino-style gaming,” Cornyn said in his letter. “The answer has always been clear - casinos are not wanted in Texas.”

Nedra Darling, a spokeswoman for the department's Bureau of Indian Affairs, said she had not seen the letters and could not comment on them. The chairman of the Kickapoo tribe did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment.

Under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, a tribe can offer the same games permitted in the state. Texas operates a lottery and has legalized pari-mutuel betting on horses and dogs. The Interior Department's preliminary approval letter said the state's definition of a lottery is broad enough to include traditional casino-style games except slot machines.

Cornyn, a Republican who fought to close Indian casinos when he was Texas' attorney general, said states should have more of a say in decisions about gambling within their borders.

He proposed several amendments to the procedures governing the approval process, including one that would allow states' attorneys general, not federal officials, to define the scope of gaming allowed under their state laws.

The Kickapoo tribe has been trying to expand its gaming operations for more than a decade. It is the only Texas tribe allowed to run even a limited casino.

Texas sued the Interior Department in 2004 after federal officials announced plans to move ahead with the tribe's request despite the state's objections. A district judge dismissed the suit a year later, saying the state could refile once the department issued its final decision.

Abbott appealed that decision to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which has not issued a ruling.

Texas lawmakers have repeatedly rejected efforts to expand gaming on Indian reservations and elsewhere in the state. A bill that would have opened the door to resumed casino gambling on the Tigua and Alabama-Coushatta tribal lands died this spring on a rare tie vote in the Texas House of Representatives.