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Chukchansi gaming commissioners laid off at shut-down casino

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Tribal council tells gaming commissioners they’re fired.

•  Gaming commissioners said employment agreement was violated.

•  Council wants maintenance employees to continue working.

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The Chukchansi tribal council has laid off its gaming commission because the tribe’s closed-down casino has no gambling to regulate, a council leader said Thursday.

Tribal chairman Reggie Lewis said the council ordered the gaming commission out of Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino last week, but commissioners said the contract they agreed to was supposed to keep them there until two months after the next tribal election.

Lewis said there is no gambling at the casino, which leaves commission members with little or nothing to do. The Coarsegold casino has been closed since Oct. 9, when tribal police from a rival leadership faction took over a gaming office in the hotel. The following day, state and federal officials ordered the casino closed until the tribe could ensure the safety of patrons and employees.

The gaming commission wrote two letters — one to Lewis and another to federal and state officials — seeking an explanation for the firings while they were still under employment agreements with the tribe.

Those agreements guaranteed the term of the commissioners’ employment. It began Aug. 24, 2014, and was scheduled to end two months after an election planned for May 2. The election is now delayed, Lewis said, though he contended the employment agreements will be met.

Writing on behalf of the commission, lawyer Rory Dilweg said no cause was cited for what he called the termination.

The gaming commission consisted of Dyann Eckstein, Joseph Ayala, Joshua Atkins, David Works III, and Mike Ramirez. The termination also included casino general manager Giffen Tan and Khamphila Chhom, the casino’s executive director. He said Tan and Chhom will return when gaming resumes.

Lewis said the tribal council is working with the federal government and trustees — the financial backers of the hotel and casino — to reopen.

The gaming commission was continuing to safeguard more than $400,000, as well as gaming chips valued at nearly $5.8 million and $120,000 in gift cards at the casino. The commission’s letter also said a bank account with $190,000 was frozen by the tribal council on Feb. 26 and the gaming commission was prohibited from accessing it. The commission also oversaw removal of 276 gaming machines not owned by the casino. The casino still has 1,397 machines on the gaming floor, according to the letter to Lewis from the gaming commission.

In the letter, Dilweg said the gaming commissioners believed the “cease and desist” letters were targeted at all employees, even non-gaming workers who remain employed at the casino. There was no additional documentation sent to commissioners, he said.

The tribal gaming commission has “been provided with no additional documentation, the commissioners have assumed that the cease and desist letters you sent reflect the desire ... to terminate the appointments of the commissioners.”

But Lewis said the gaming commission was the focus of the “cease and desist” notices, not the roughly dozen maintenance people who watch over the wastewater treatment plant and other basic work required at the hotel and casino.

“We don’t have a gaming commission because there isn’t any gaming going on up there and their job was to make sure the casino was following regulations,” Lewis said.

The employment agreements will be met, he said. The agreement was made by the “unification council,” which is the combined council of 2010 through 2013 council members. The tribal council recognized by federal government officials is the 2010 council, which took over on Feb. 26 and includes members of the Morris Reid faction, he said.

“They say they have to be there to regulate,” Lewis said. “But there is nothing up there to regulate.”

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