After being forced to close last week due to alleged violations of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, the Nooksack Northwood Casino in northern Washington has reportedly begun exchanging customers’ unused slot tokens for cash.
According to a report from The Bellingham Herald newspaper, the Whatcom County casino, which employed around 100 people, was opened by the federally-recognized Nooksack Indian Tribe in 2007 and had offered more than 350 slots along with a gift shop and a trio of restaurants.
The newspaper reported that the Nooksack Northwood Casino’s slot tokens expire within 30 days of being issued and patrons with unused valid slips can exchange these for cash by visiting the venue, which is located on Northwood Road approximately five miles north of the town of Lynden, between the hours of 11am and 3pm.
The Bellingham Herald reported that the Bureau of Indian Affairs ordered the Nooksack Indian Tribe to shutter the casino on Thursday after citing “numerous violations” of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act including that all tribal gaming “must be conducted by federally-recognized leadership”. This is reportedly because the federal government does not accept the authority of the current tribal council after the tribe failed to hold new elections in order to replace four seats that expired in late-March of 2016.
Although the tribe reportedly did hold elections in January of this year, the Bureau of Indian Affairs has subsequently refused to honor the results because the Nooksack Indian Tribe had controversially removed some 306 people from its membership rolls two months earlier over allegations that these people did not have strong enough blood ties and had been enrolled erroneously. As a result, the federal government purportedly believes that the most recent elections took place without a quorum and were therefore illegitimate.
“The closure is sad because it was completely preventable,” Gabe Galanda, an attorney working on behalf of some of the disenrolled members, told The Bellingham Herald. “My clients did not desire closure or further destruction of their tribe. They simply wanted and still want an election so the voice of the Nooksack people can finally be heard.”
The newspaper reported that the federal government also alleged in its closure order that the Nooksack Indian Tribe had failed to maintain and operate the Nooksack Northwood Casino in a manner that adequately protected the environment and the public’s health and safety. This charge was based on a study prepared by the Environmental Protection Agency that found Safe Drinking Water Act deficiencies at six water systems including one serving the casino.
Finally, The Bellingham Herald reported that authorities additionally contended that the Nooksack Northwood Casino should be closed because the Nooksack Indian Tribe had not conducted background checks or obtained gaming licenses for some tribal council members and primary management officials employed at the casino.
“This closure demonstrates the lack of leadership and competence in running a business let alone a tribe,” Michelle Roberts, one of those disenrolled from the Nooksack Indian Tribe, told the newspaper. “The violations outlined by the National Indian Gaming Commission were in their control and easily prevented.”