Chukchansi tribe names new gaming commissioners

Phil Hogen, new Chukchansi gaming commissioner
Phil Hogen, new Chukchansi gaming commissioner Special to The Bee

Two new gaming commissioners who are among the best-known regulators in the Indian gaming industry have been named to the Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians’ gaming commission.

Phil Hogen, a lawyer and former chairman of the National Indian Gaming Commission in the George W. Bush administration, will join the Chukchansi commission. Last week he was named an adviser for the tribe.

He will be joined by Joseph Smith, the former director of audits and finance for the National Indian Gaming Commission.

Smith, a former director of audits for the federal commission, has more than 35 years of gaming experience and specializes in tribal casino audits through his firm, Smith, Harrison. It has offices in Portland, Ore., and Las Vegas.

The two nationally known gaming industry leaders were named to the commission two weeks after the panel’s three members resigned along with the gaming commission’s executive director.

The tribe’s two years of late audits were the subject of the National Indian Gaming Commission’s threats last year to close Chukchansi Gold Resort and Casino. The commission sent a letter in early October threatening closure at the end of that month if the agency didn’t get the audits.

Before the deadline, members of a faction opposing the group running the casino raided an office in the casino to get audit documents. That action led to the casino’s closure by the gaming commission and state attorney general. The resort has been closed since.

These new and independent voices are exactly what we need to ensure credibility and transparency and to get the casino operating again.

Reggie Lewis, interim council tribal chairman

Gaming officials said they were encouraged that the tribe named the two new gaming commissioners.

“It makes sense that someone with (Hogen’s) experience will lead the commission,” said Christian Goode, chief operating officer for the resort. “And, Joe Smith is the right person to guarantee the casino operates in a transparent fashion and provides timely reports to all stakeholders. This will ensure that everyone is confident in its operations.”

Interim tribal chairman Reggie Lewis said the tribe was seeking experienced, independent leaders for the gaming commission.

“We landed the top two names in tribal gaming that were on our list,” Lewis said. “These new and independent voices are exactly what we need to ensure credibility and transparency and to get the casino operating again.”

Joe Valandra, a former chief of staff with the federal commission, said that Hogen and Smith are among the most highly regarded in their fields.

“Phil’s time and expertise in Indian gaming is very hard to match in the industry,” he said.

Smith, he said, is one of the “architects” in “audits and internal control.”

He said Chukchansi’s audits seemed to have a lack of internal controls, which makes Smith a good fit.

“He is the kind of guy who will get to the bottom of it,” Valandra said.

Marc Benjamin: 559-441-6166, @beebenjamin