California Casino Reopens after 14 Months

A California casino that was closed 14 months ago due to an armed incursion by a faction of the Picayune Rancheria reopened on the 31st day of December. The soft opening of the Chukchansi Gold Resort and Casino was a marked success.

The Chukchansi Gold Resort and Casino in Coarsegold, California, owned by the Picayune Rancheria, reopened on the last day of 2015 after more than a year with its doors locked and its slot machines silent.

What had been planned as a soft opening quickly became a surge of humanity moving into the casino to play the 1,700 slot machines and more than 100 gaming tables.

According to the Fresno Bee, tribal officials estimated that the casino was 85 percent full and all of the rooms 200 rooms that were available were full.

Casino CEO Christian Goode declared, “This has been fantastic. From the minute go, we had a nice crowd waiting here when we opened, and business is being brisk, and everybody is happy, just everybody is having a great time and that is what we are here for.”

Tribal Chairman Claudia Gonzales added, “I’m so excited we have waited so long t reopen the casino, Chukchansi Gold Resort and Casino is packed right now, it’s just a joyous day for us and our community and I can’t wait to see what the future has in store for us.”

The casino in Coarsegold was able to open after reaching a settlement with the National Indian Gaming Commission last week. California Attorney General Kamala Harris did not oppose the finding.

The casino had been closed since October 10, 2014 the day after a faction of the tribe conducted an armed raid on the casino office to seize financial documents. The NIGC and the state concurred that public safety required the casino to close.

The raid had occurred because the tribe had not provided required independent audits and financial statements. Part of the settlement allowing the casino to reopen was that those document be provided to the NIGC. It also requires the tribe to pay $20 million in fines, but the NIGC will suspend those payments as long as the tribe lives up to its other obligations.

After the agreement tribal Chairman Claudia Gonzales said, “Our new Tribal Council promised our members we would act swiftly to reopen the casino, get our employees back to work and start to rebuild our tribe’s financial and cultural strength, and this agreement is an important step towards those goals.”

About 1,000 employees were put back to the work by the casino’s reopening.

The agreement says that if at any time the health and safety of the facility, patrons or employees are threatened that the casino will immediately be closed again.

In November the Madera County Board of Supervisors approved a government to government agreement with the tribe that caught up the tribe on payments that it owed to the county for public safety and provided that the county will provide an office to the casino for the first six months of its reopening.

County Supervisor Tom Wheeler greeted the news of the reopening by telling the Sierra Star, “I’d say that’s a heck of a Christmas present to have 1,000 jobs back, or so. This is a big, big deal for my citizens and for the county.”

The casino may be open, but the rift continues between tribal factions, even thought a federally mandated council election was held on October 3. A faction of 46 members calling themselves the “distributees,” and who claim to be the only legitimate tribal members, oppose the new council and oppose the casino’s reopening.

Although the federal government supports the recently elected tribal council a tribal court has ruled in favor of the distributees. The U.S. District Court in Fresno has not recognized this. The distributees are considering an appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

As many as 20 members of this group peacefully demonstrated in front of the casino. Luke Davis, a member of the distributees, told the Sierra Sun, We don’t agree the casino should reopen so soon with our tribe still being in a dispute. And we believe there’s corrupt leadership with the so-called new council. We believe there is a rightful tribal forum to resolve this to correct everything and stop this sovereign abuse.”

The tribe’s bondholders will be happy that the casino is open again. Three years ago they agreed to take on an additional $250 million in debt after the tribe fell behind in payments on its hotel. The bondholders arranged for an additional $35 million to cover start up costs.

The casino opened with only half of its 400 hotel rooms available. Its seven restaurants will be working at capacity by the January 15.

The casino has reopened with several incentives and promotional programs and given loyal customers from last year the option of redeeming their winnings from when the casino closed.