A Battle Royal – A Senseless Fight over Control of a Casino

A California casino is closed after an armed standoff: the Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino is closed and may remain that way for months. The area media is having a field day as daily new details unfold. Recently, the sheriff has said there will be arrests and prosecutions in the near future. And then, the two sides announced they would be meeting to discuss their differences – rather like the Palestinians and Israelis or the Russians and Ukrainians. “We have agreed to the terms of the meeting, not the terms of a settlement.” As we all know, in international affairs that means a real settlement may never happen, or at least not in this lifetime.

Patrons of Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino were abruptly ushered out of the casino in mid-game Thursday night, and the casino and hotel were apparently closed, according to patrons. Madera County sheriff’s spokeswoman Erica Stuart said Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians tribal factions were feuding again and someone pulled a fire alarm to evacuate the building. She said it is not known who pulled the alarm. The Sheriff’s Office is investigating, she said. Marc Benjamin and Rory Appleton, Fresno Bee, 10-10-14

On a June day in 1999, close to 20 Chukchansi members burst into tribal headquarters, banging on doors, screaming and terrorizing staff members inside. Daisy Liedkie, the Chukchansi tribal chair at the time, later said one of the aggressors spit on her… It would foretell the future. Control of the $180 million, 300,000-square-foot casino near Coarsegold has been at the root of an endless cycle of tribal chairs, power grabs and disenrollments. John Ellis/ Marc Benjamin, Fresno Bee, 10-19-14

It might be good humor, the kind of thing that keeps Saturday Night Live writers employed for months. If so, many people’s lives would not be affected. The closing of the casino, however, is a significant event to the tribe, its employees and the surrounding community just as the closing of four casinos has been to Atlantic City. Unlike the closed casinos in Atlantic City, this one will undoubtedly reopen. But the damage to everyone concerned will not be completely repaired by its opening. And, I cannot but think, it will cost the casino a great deal in future business by eroding the confidence of its customers by the violence and erratic behavior.

Most of the 1,300 employees at Chukchansi Gold Resort and Casino have been laid off. Now, only a skeleton crew will remain. The layoffs are the direct result of a federal shutdown caused by fighting among tribal leaders…A single-page letter sent out to Chukchansi Gold Resort and Casino employees paints a dire situation for staff members. One line in particular: “We cannot anticipate the duration of this closure because the government entities will not tell us how long this closure will remain in effect.” Veronica Miracle, 10-19-14

It also clouds the Indian gaming measure, Proposition 48, that will be on the ballot in November. The hullaballoo gives the opponents of Indian gaming more ammunition. Proposition 48 puts two Indian gaming compacts up for vote. Both have been negotiated and signed by the governor and approved by the legislature. However, neither tribe would be using pre-existing tribal trust land for a casino. “Reservation shopping” is loosely defined as a tribe seeking to build a casino in a location other than an existing and long-held reservation. It has become a very polarized debate nationally. The debate in California mirrors the national rhetoric with many well-known politicians coming out against the concept and in this case, these specific tribes.

A high-stakes turf war involving a proposed Central California casino has put a wedge between some Native American tribes and even divided the governor and California’s senior U.S. senator. The battle is embodied in Proposition 48 on next month’s ballot… The financial stakes are high. The 59 casinos now operated by tribes in California under compacts take in $7 billion annually… “Proposition 48 will open the floodgates to countless more mega casinos in local communities across the state,” Feinstein said… Supporters of the compacts include Brown, who told reporters last year that the effort to overturn the compacts is “unfortunate” and is about “money and competition.” “Voting yes helps California’s tribes help themselves — without costing state taxpayers anything,” says a ballot argument signed by Brown. Patrick McGreevy, Los Angeles Times, 10-24-14

A statewide ballot measure for an off-reservation tribal casino in the Central Valley town of Madera faces stiff opposition from competing gaming tribes, who have far outraised supporters. If approved by California voters in the Nov. 4 general election, Proposition 48 would ratify an agreement between the state and the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians for a casino – with 2,000 slot machines – on land near Madera. The casino would be about 40 miles from the tribe’s reservation. Phil Willon, Los Angeles Times, 10-8-14

Sadly, the story of the Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino plays into the anti-Indian casino rhetoric, although nothing about the story is applicable. It is not applicable to reservation shopping and it is not applicable to Indian gaming. This is not the story of Indian gaming; it is the story of one tribe.


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