Sunday, June 12, 2005

For a Tribe in Texas, an Era of Prosperity Undone by Politics

EL PASO - There are no customers at the Speaking Rock Casino now. Inside the adobe building, built by the Tigua Indians to look like a large pueblo-style home, it is eerily silent and dark, no clinking coins, no 24-hour-a-day bright lights.

The 1,500 slot machines that attracted 100,000 visitors a month to the casino, earning the small Tigua tribe $60 million a year, are gone, taken away after the State of Texas won a federal lawsuit three years ago declaring that the tribe did not have the right to run a casino here on their ancestral land, the oldest settlement in Texas.

The Tiguas' efforts to get their casino reopened and their dealings with Washington insiders promising access and influence got them caught up in the spreading investigations involving the lobbyist Jack Abramoff and Republican political figures, including the House majority leader, Tom DeLay, and Ralph Reed, the former director of the Christian Coalition who is running for lieutenant governor in Georgia.