On October 9, 2014 offices in the Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino near Coursegold, California were raided by a rival faction of the tribe that was managing the property. About 500 employees and guests were evacuated, outside law enforcement was called in, arrests were made, and the next day the casino was shut down. The casino has remained closed throughout a year of criminal, civil, and administrative proceedings with no date certain for it to reopen.
October 9th was not the beginning of troubles for the popular casino resort and its purveyors. The actual tribal framework is fractured with several factions within it claiming authority and legitimacy. Various elections and administrative decrees have been opposed and contested by members and groups ranging from a faction of 46 adults claiming to be the true descendants of the Chukchansi, to the federally recognized Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians counting some 900 members.
The current rifts within the people seem to have formed starting with a tribal election in 2011, resulting in riotous behavior near the tribe’s headquarters in 2012 and eventually in an armed raid on the casino last October.
Reasons given by a faction, then headed by Tex McDonald, for the raid on the offices of the casino which was controlled by Reggie Lewis, include a letter from the National Indian Gaming Council (NIGC) threatening to close the casino if late audits were not immediately tendered. The faction claims to have been acting within authority, hiring their own police force from outlying tribes to seize related documents and deliver them to the NIGC.
A recent Tribal election held this past week was orderly but not recognized by some factions, one of which said it would hold its own elections in December.
On a positive note, former NIGC chairman, Phil Hogen will lead the tribe’s gaming commission for at least the next 90 days along with Joe Smith, former chief of audits for the NIGC. However, the NIGC has no intentions of allowing the casino to reopen without stability in tribal government and although “orderly”, the recent election was by no means a mandate for harmony within the tribe.
Tribal members are not the only ones losing money on a daily basis from the resort’s continued closure. The Fresno Bee reports that the venture’s payroll alone was over $30 million a year and that the county is owed nearly a million dollars for services rendered. Non-profits are also feeling the bite with about a million dollars in annual donations ceasing with the stop of operating profits. Further, the loss of indirect revenues from collateral tourist trade at local businesses are also being felt.
Where once about 1,000 people were employed, now only about 20 remain. And those jobs may be in jeopardy. The smallest faction has filed a motion (.PDF) against the interim council seeking a cease and desist order to stop anyone preparing the casino for a reopening. The motion is based on a federal judge’s preliminary injunction closing the casino after the October raid, citing public safety. The faction contends that the venue has not yet been deemed safe so the current council is in violation of the judge’s order.