Armed Standoff Between Tribal Factions Shuts Down California Casino
The ChukChansi Gold Resort and Casino in Coarsegold, Madera County, was forced to shutdown after an armed standoff ensued between rival factions of the Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians with both factions looking to control the Indian owned and run casino.
US District Judge, Lawrence O’ Neill, acting on an emergency request by the state attorney general, closed the casino until the matter can be resolved. The National Indian Gaming Commission also ordered that the casino be closed, declaring it, as well as the actions of the factions, a threat to public safety that could possibly result in serious injury or death.
This is not the first time the Chukchansi Nation has been embroiled in scandal after the Disenrollment Controversy of 2003 saw over 900 people disenrolled from the tribe, resulting in their loss of their share of the casino as well as schooling and care. The disenrollment by members within the tribal council caused violent protests, riots and even a stabbing incident.
The issue with the casino began in the early part of October when members from a faction led by Reggie Lewis, ousted the faction led by Tex McDonald and took control of the casino. However, just over a week later, McDonald returned at the head of 20 armed men and stormed the casino, assaulting security personnel and tying them up in a room.
During the standoff, one group, that belonging to Reggie Lewis, holed themselves up on the 11th floor while the armed men occupied the lobby. During the event, camera footage shows members of the faction belonging to McDonald removing mountains of paperwork from the casino.
Both groups are claiming to be the victims in the whole affair and with Tex McDonald making claims that he was ousted earlier and has now returned to the run the casino after fears it would shut down amidst mismanagement from Lewis who had missed audits.
Tex McDonald was demanding control of the casino and its profits because he claimed the property and its proceeds rightfully belonged to him. He said in a statement to the press: “They came in here about a month ago and took our casino over, and they’re illegally here. So we came in and we claimed our casino”.
Before the federal shutdown on Friday, members of the two factions could not be arrested as they were on tribal land. Now though, a restraining order and a memorandum of agreement with Madera County and the two leaders, means they will need to stay away from each others headquarters or run the risk of being arrested.
All the unrest is occurring under scrutiny by the National Indian Gaming Commission who is conducting an investigation into missing audits, which, if not produced soon, could mean the casino closes permanently.
At the moment, there is no set time or date for the reopening of the casino which is currently being secured by the County’s Sherriff Department. However, everyday the casino stays closed, is a day that its 1300 staff do not receive payment from the casino that earns around $1 million a day.
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