Federal Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill made the right call Wednesday afternoon in ruling that the Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino remain closed at least until another court hearing is held Oct. 29.
The date of the hearing is significant because it is two days after the deadline set by the National Indian Gaming Commission for Chukchansi tribal leaders to turn in long overdue financial statements and audits for the casino.
If the documents aren’t submitted by the deadline, the NGIC warned earlier this month, the casino could be closed and the Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indian tribe would face fines totaling $16 million.
While it is essential that tribal leaders who have grappled for control of the casino iron out their differences for the good of their people and casino employees, new-found harmony alone won’t be sufficient to reopen the casino’s doors. Those audits must be completed, not just to satisfy federal guidelines but also to reveal the truth about the casino’s financial condition.
In addition, we believe that the casino should remain closed until the tribe has taken vigorous steps to ensure that there won’t be a repeat of the Oct. 9 armed attempted takeover of the casino engineered by a faction led by Tex McDonald.
That brazen and dangerous invasion, which was captured on video, prompted O’Neill to shut down the Coarsegold gaming center the following day. As disputes among tribal members have become increasingly violent through the years, neither the judge nor gaming regulators should accept mere promises of proper conduct with any expectation that patrons and employees won’t be in harm’s way.
Those responsible for planning the Oct. 9 invasion and those who participated in it must be banned from the casino and the surrounding area by the tribe. In addition, these individuals must be arrested and held accountable for their thuggery.
Madera County Sheriff John Anderson told The Bee’s Carmen George before Wednesday’s hearing it would probably be “a week or two” before any charges are made because investigators are working to identify people on the casino's security surveillance videos.
The victims in this ugly situation are tribal members who trusted their leaders to do the right thing. Without their monthly payouts from casino profits, many of them will struggle to pay rents and mortgages, and put food on the table. Hotel and casino employees face similar challenges. But the pain doesn’t end there. Chukchansi paychecks are a big part of the foothill economy in Madera County.
It’s up to O’Neill and federal and state officials to strike the proper balance between protecting the safety and health of Chukchansi’s future patrons and averting a crippling economic blow to tribal members, employees and businesses benefiting from the casino.